Men in a rocky marriage are at greater risk of having a heart attack – but women are unaffected.
British researchers found the ups and downs of marital life were strongly linked to rises and falls in men’s blood pressure, cholesterol and weight – each major drivers of heart attacks and strokes.
Their study, which tracked 620 married fathers for 16 years, found that when marital relations were improving, the men’s health measurements improved.
Ups and downs of marriages were found to impact men’s health more than that of their female counterparts
When the relationships were stable – either consistently bad or consistently happy – there was no impact on their health.
But when married life was deteriorating, their health measurements also got worse.
The researchers, from the universities of Bristol and Glasgow, compared their results to the Million Women Study – an ongoing study of British women – which has found no link between marital happiness and female cardiovascular health.
They believe this is because men are extremely reliant on their wives, but women have larger social networks and other ways of coping.
The scientists, writing in the BMJ Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, even suggested men in turbulent relationships should end their marriage for the sake of their health.
‘Changes in the quality of a marital relationship appear to predict cardiovascular disease risk, though consistently good or poor relationship groups were not very different.
‘Assuming a causal association, then marriage counselling for couples with deteriorating relationships may have added benefits in terms of physical health over and above psychological well-being, though in some cases ending the relationship may be the best outcome.’
They said a happy marriage is generally protective, but added: ‘Men appear to gain more benefit than women, as women have larger social networks and are less dependent on their partner than men.’
The scientists tracked 620 married fathers taking part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children which began in 1991.
The dads completed a 12-item questionnaire to assess the quality of their marital relationship when their child was nearly three and again when their child was nine.
They then assessed the dads’ blood pressure, resting heart rate, weight, blood fat, and blood sugar levels between 2011 and 2013 when their child was nearly 19, on the basis that it would take some time for changes in cardiovascular risk factors to occur after any corresponding changes in relationship quality.
After taking account of potentially influential factors, such as age, educational attainment, and household income, improving relationships were associated with lower levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and weight when compared with consistently good relationships.
British researchers found that as relationships improved, so did the health of married fathers
Deteriorating relationships, on the other hand, were linked to higher blood pressure.
They said men whose relationships were consistently good or bad were displaying a degree of ‘habituation’ over time.
Previous research, published this summer by Aston Medical School in Birmingham, found married patients were 14 per cent more likely to survive a heart attack than those who are single.
Scientists believe being married encourages people to keep fit and take their daily medication – and those who are alone are more likely to drink, smoke and eat badly.
Experts say this is because living with a husband or wife is the ‘most fundamental’ form of social support.
But the new research suggests men are far more reliant on their wives than women are on their husbands.
The findings echo those of experts at Yokohama City University in Japan, who last year found married men were less likely than single men to suffer metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity which damages the blood vessels. They also found the same did not apply to women.