As anyone in a relationship knows, a spouse’s stress can be contagious. A new study finds that it even appears to have health consequences over time.
When wives reported greater stress, their husbands often had higher blood pressure, according to new research led by Kira Birditt, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan. And a bad marriage makes it even more likely that those two things will be linked, the study found.
“Unhappily married people are probably worse off than people who get a divorce,” said Sara Moorman, an associate professor of sociology at Boston College, who was not involved in the new research.
By contrast, a happier marriage provides about the same health boost as eating a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables, Moorman said.
In the new study of 1,300 middle-aged couples, the bad marriage effect only occurred when both husband and wife thought the relationship was on the rocks; if one was happy, the stress didn’t get transferred, said Birditt, whose research was published in the Journals of Gerontology.
“Maybe when one feels negative about the relationship, it could be buffered by the other member not feeling negative,” Birditt said. “It’s important for you both not to be negative at the same time.”