Marriage Research: Troubled Marriage, Broken Heart?

A recent study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that older couples who find themselves in troubled marriages — particularly female spouses — are at higher risk for heart disease than couples in a good marriage.

The findings, from the first nationally representative study of its kind, suggest the need for couples to access marriage enrichment programs and counseling well into their 70s and 80s, according to the study’s lead investigator, Hui Liu, a sociologist from Michigan State University.

Liu, analyzed five years of data from about 1,200 married men and women who participated in the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. The research included survey questions about marital quality, and lab tests and self-reported measures of cardiovascular health such as heart attacks, strokes, hypertension and high levels of C-reactive protein in the blood (an indicator of potentially dangerous inflammation levels.) Respondents were aged 57-85 at the time of the study.

What Couples Can Do:
• No matter what stage of marriage you find yourself in, be intentional about keeping your marriage strong. Healthy marriages require ongoing attention, nurture, and care. Understand that the state of your marriage can influence your overall health.

• Do not allow marital tension, resentment, or conflict to fester into a full blown relational infection. Unresolved tensions and conflicts lead to increased stress and anxiety, and over time these have a negative influence on your physical health.

• If your marriage is troubled and your attempts to resolve tensions and conflicts with your spouse are unsuccessful, seek help. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in the abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14 RSV). Participate in marriage enrichment workshops or seminars, and if necessary, seek out the assistance of a professional Christian marriage counselor.

• If you are approaching or into your senior years, don’t neglect the health of your marriage, any more than you would neglect your physical health. Understand that these are interrelated.

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Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has 40 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, editor, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord Culture Blog also appears on Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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