Stress and Complicacy Among Relationships: A Major Health Concern

On Valentine’s Day, the sight of couples holding hands and hugging each-other might unleash a wave of jealousy in those who are single. However, there might not be much to be jealous about.  Also, marital quality clearly colors one’s overall sense of well-being, and marital distress elevates health risks, says a leading clinical psychology journal. However, the simple presence of a spouse is not necessarily protective; a troubled marriage is itself a prime source of stress, and simultaneously limits the partner’s ability to seek support in other relationships. The worst distance between two persons in a relationship misunderstanding. Indeed, the relationship between life satisfaction and marital quality is stronger than life satisfaction’s ties to either one’s job or one’s health.

Distressed relationships and depression often travel in tandem. One study found a 10-fold increase in risk for depressive symptomatology associated with marital discord. In addition to physiological alterations, depressed individuals are also more likely to have poorer health habits including a greater propensity for alcohol and drug abuse, inadequate sleep and nutrition, and less exercise, all of which have negative health influences in their own right.

Relationships can be fraught with sadness, anger, confusion and stress. There’s a common wise men’s tale that “Be with someone who brings best in you, not the stress in you”. Researchers found that those with more relationship concerns reported greater stress throughout the day, had higher BP in the middle of the workday and higher morning cortisol (stress hormone) levels. These factors can, over time, combine to increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, depression, heart attack and stroke, says the study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Although studies have shown that a steady, committed relationship is good for mental health, a difficult and strained relationship perhaps unsurprisingly has the opposite effect. Negative behaviors, such as hostility and criticism, during conflict in relationships have been linked to negative impacts on mental health.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women who reported moderate to severe marital strain were 3 times more likely to need heart surgery, suffer heart attacks or die of heart disease than women without marital stress. According to American Journal of Cardiology, four-year survival rate of those with severe heart disease and poor marriages was more than 40 percent, compared with around 80% among patients with milder heart disease and good marriages.

Marital conflict also has been linked to immune system disruptions. According to an article in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, newlywed couples involved in a 30-minute heated discussion of marital problems tended to have relatively poorer immunological responses, unlike couples engaged in positive or problem-solving behaviors. Patients in a distressed relationship not only had continuously heightened levels of stress, they also eventually showed more impaired functioning compared with those in stable, non-distressed relationships, said the study. Marital distress was associated with worse recovery trajectory for breast cancer survivors, according to another study published in the journal ‘Cancer’.

Among famous Terence quotes, a funny one is “Lovers quarrels are the renewal of love”. Stressors are common occurrences in married couples’ lives where couples must deal with various day-to-day hassles or problems. However, an increasing rate of extra marital affairs is leading to more divorces and separations, compelling many couples to suffer a period of psychological breakdown and deep emotional distress. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the number of applications for divorce has increased by 34% in the past seven years. In a study of divorce and mortality of American Psychosomatic Society, it was revealed that people who divorced and never re-married—were at substantially elevated risk for early death, evidencing a 66% greater chance of being dead at each successive follow-up period than the continuously married participants.

Interestingly, changes in one spouse’s behavior can prompt change in their partner. Couples who live together for longer time periods become more similar in obesity-related behaviors, including low levels of physical activity and high rates of sedentary behavior. When one partner has a history of diabetes, spousal risk for diabetes is increased 26%; a spousal history of either diabetes or prediabetes confers a two-fold risk for the partner. However, husbands and wives may be differentially affected by stress, wives are more affected by husbands’ stress than the reverse. High levels of chronic stress were related to lower levels of genital sexual arousal in women. However, increased frequency of intercourse is associated with better mental health outcomes as well as healthier heart rate variability and lower risk of mortality among both. Unfortunately, infertile people experience more stress related to both infertility as a disease and its treatments when compared to fertile people. It is a public health concern that affects 9% of reproductive-aged couples worldwide. Also, low income or material hardship is associated with a serious threat to marital quality and stability.

Being in a happy marriage is related to better psychological and physical health. Conversely, health problems may put strain on the marriage, and reduce marital quality. Researchers have investigated a wide-factors related to long-term marriage, including attitudes towards marital relations, the number of children, love and affection, commitment and intimacy, role division communication and conflict resolution, support, attachment and loyalty. In his film “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen charged that “a relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.” For a happy married life, both partners have to learn to lose the “it’s my way or the highway” attitude and to learn compromise and sacrifice, as wise men said so.


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