Gender difference and stressful relationships
276 couples who had been married for an average of 20 years were asked to fill out questionnaires on the high and low points of married life. The couples were also assessed on how depressed they appeared to be, based on their own self-reporting. Doctors then carried out a battery of tests to assess whether or not the volunteers were showing signs of metabolic syndrome - a collection of symptoms pointing to a raised risk of serious disease, such as heart problems.
Metabolic Syndrome includes: high blood pressure; bulging waistline; high blood sugar; high triglyceride levels; low levels of "good" cholesterol
Based on the questionnaire and medical examinations, the psychologists found that women in strained marriages were more likely to be depressed and to have a greater number of symptoms of metabolic syndrome. While the researchers expected both genders to show signs of mental and physical problems associated with a stressful marriage, men did not show any physiological signs of strain.
According to the researchers, this has important implications due to the link between stress and heart disease in both genders: "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."
Professor Tim Smith, who co-led the research, has called for relationship and emotional factors to be included in health assessment:
"The immediate implication is that if you are interested in your cardiovascular risk - and we all should be because it is the leading killer for both genders - we should be concerned about not just traditional risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol but the quality of our emotional and family lives."