Western Mail, 6th March 2009
Women were warned yesterday that being married can be bad for their health.
Scientists found that wives in strained marriages were prone to risk factors for heart disease stroke and diabetes.
However, the same was not true of their husbands according to the research.
Psychologists in the US studied 276 couples aged 40 to 70 who had been married an average of 20 years.
Each couple filled out questionnaires designed to assess the good and bad aspects of married life.
Among the positive influences were mutual support, emotional warmth and friendliness – while negative effects included arguments, feelings of hostility and disagreements over topics such as children money and sex.
Participants were also given ’depression scores’ based on self-reported symptoms.
Couples were then examined in a clinic where doctors measured the size of their waists took blood pressure readings and tested level of cholesterol triglyceride blood fats and glucose.
The tests determined whether or not the volunteers had ‘metabolic syndrome’ – a collection of symptoms known to increase the risk of heart disease stroke and diabetes.
In women, marital strain was associated both with depression and a larger number of metabolic syndrome symptoms.
But although husbands in unhappy marriages were also depressed they managed to avoid the adverse health effects suffered by their wives.
Researcher Nancy Henry from the University of Utah said: ‘We hypothesised that negative aspects of marriages like arguing and being angry would be associated with higher levels of metabolic syndrome.’
‘We further anticipated that this relationship would be at least partly due to depressive symptoms. In other words those who reported experiencing more conflict hostility and disagreement with their spouses would be more depressed which in turn would be associated with a higher risk of heart disease due to metabolic syndrome.’
‘We found this was true for wives in this study but not for husbands. The gender difference is important because heart disease is the number one killer of women as well as men and we are still learning a lot about how relationship factors and emotional distress are related to heart disease.’
‘The findings were presented yesterday at the American Psychosomatic Society’s annual meeting in Chicago and women in Wales said they were not surprising results.’
Melanie Hamer a family lawyer of 20 years of Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice in Cardiff said: ’When clients first come in to see me they are often at their worst when their marriage is dwindling. In the first interview the women are more emotional than the men. Sometimes it’s the first chance they get to offload their problems which have been going on for years. There’s still a traditional idea that women are the pivotal person in the family. They have more responsibility for the children. Women tend to like things organised and when you’ve got a bad marriage you haven’t got any security and stability.
‘After the divorce they usually have a new lease of life and sense of freedom. Women stay in a marriage longer than they should because of the children. It doesn’t do them any favours for their health, as it shows in the survey. I’ve had clients tell me they realised their marriage was going wrong five to ten years earlier. They sacrifice their own happiness,
‘I’ve had more women clients who are on prescribed medication then men, who’ve volunteered that information. That would seem to suggest that women’s health is more adversely affected than men’s. I’ve had clients who can’t eat or sleep because of the state of their marriage.”