Females in unhappy marriages recover more slowly from stress than men do, research shows

CARRIE PEYTON DAHLBERG

McClatchy Newspapers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. —

Just in time for New Year’s resolutions, a new study underscores that a solid relationship may be good for your health.

Researchers at the University of California’s Los Angeles and Davis campuses have found that women in happy marriages recover more quickly from workday stress than women in unhappy ones.

The study, part of an examination of a week in the lives of Los Angeles-area families, may help explain how health benefits of a good marriage play out differently for men and women.

The research is a reminder that our bodies respond to what is happening in our emotional lives — a potent New Year’s message.

“Maybe in addition in promising to go on that diet, you could also promise to sit down with your spouse and talk to them,” said Rena Repetti, a psychology professor at UCLA.

Davis professor Adrienne Nishina and Repetti, along with University of California Los Angeles doctoral student Darby Saxbe, wrote the study on stress and married life being published in the January issue of Health Psychology. They found that the stress hormone cortisol, which normally rises and falls throughout the day, followed different patterns depending on gender and the state of the marriages.

Men, whether in happy or unhappy marriages, tended to rebound quickly from a stressful workday, their cortisol levels showed. So did women in happy marriages.

But women in less happy marriages rebounded more slowly, indicating that it took them longer to shed workday stress.

While the study offered more details on precisely how relationships may affect our health, scientists have long known the two can be linked.

Nishina said children picked on at school get more headaches and stomachaches. Imaging research has found that social stress can light up the same pain regions of the brain activated by physical injury.

If there is one message from this work that people can take with them into the new year, Saxbe said, it is this: “Having a good relationship is as important as eating your vegetables and doing your jogging.”

 

1/2/08 observer