A few months after an Italian study found that the strain of having an affair can cause a potentially fatal aneurysm, there is evidence that an unhappy marriage can also take a toll on people’s health.
According to US psychologists, women are more likely than men to suffer damage to their health from being in a strained relationship. Researchers discovered that women in tense marriages were prone to risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In comparison, husbands seemed relatively immune from such problems.
The study, presented to the American Psychosomatic Society, found that both men and women in difficult marriages were more likely to be depressed, but men didn’t show signs of physiological damage to their health.
Taking into account previous research that indicates people in happy marriages can expect to enjoy better health and life expectancy than those who are single, this new study isn’t so surprising.
But why would women suffer succumb to poor health and not men?
Christine Northam, a counsellor for the charity Relate, says the gender difference could be partly due to the fact that women’s hormonal profile is more complex than men’s. “Women also tend to worry more about their health than men,” she adds.
My experience suggests there’s a little more to it. Women are not very good at detaching themselves from what is going on at home, even when they’re knee-deep in work at the office. Men, on the other hand, have more of an ability to “switch off”.
Being the more emotional of the sexes, women feel everything deeply – especially when their marriage is likely to be the most important element of their life. Their nurturing, nesting instincts permeate the whole of their existence so that, if there are problems at home, they struggle to operate effectively in other areas. Men can more easily push marital strife to the back of their minds while thrashing out business deals or playing golf with their mates. Hence, I suspect, women are more likely to become ill.
In my nearly 30 years in the divorce business, I have seen women in miserable marriages physically wilting; I have seen those same women flowering with new life after their divorces have been completed.
Women are more likely than men to stick out a failing relationship for the sake of the children or because they fear financial difficulties if they leave. What many don’t realise – and what this latest study highlights – is that by doing so they may be compromising their long-term health.
Whilst it is understandable – laudable even – for wives to try to make their marriages work against the odds, there has to come a point when they realise enough is enough.
If you suspect your health problems may be linked to your unhappy marriage, it might be time to consider extricating yourself from the relationship. The emotional scars may take a long time to heal, but your physical health may improve as a result. And the better you feel physically, the stronger you will be to deal with the psychological fallout.