Is your partner making you sick?

Posted on March 5, 2015

Bad marriages can be sickening. Most people don't have to be convinced of this, but for those who do, several decades of studies offer plenty of proof. Even so, very little is known about exactly how marriage quality affects health. Do strife and rudeness and neglect--and all the other signs of marital unhappiness--somehow get under the skin and trigger physical ailments? Or do warmth and trust and understanding and appreciation follow some biological pathway to wellness? Or both?

Cortisol is ubiquitous. It's present in nearly every cell of the human body, and plays a role in learning, memory and emotion. It also helps regulate the immune system. In a healthy person, cortisol spikes soon after waking, then diminishes all day, bottoming out at bedtime. This is called a steep cortisol slope. A flatter slope--often with a much smaller morning spike--is associated with poorer physical health, including diabetes risk, atherosclerosis and mortality. Aversive childhood experiences and social conflict have been linked to flat cortisol slopes, but the hormone has never been studied in connection with adult romantic relationships.

That's what Slatcher decided to do. He wanted to see if perceived partner responsiveness is linked to steeper--that is healthier--cortisol slopes many years later. He used data from an ongoing longitudinal study called the Midlife in the United States Project, focusing on a group of about 1000 adults, married or cohabiting men and women, who were studied both in 1995-1996 and in 2004-2006. Most stayed with their original partner over the time of the study, though a small group were divorced, separated or widowed, and sometimes remarried.

The study found that perceived responsiveness was associated with both steeper cortisol slope and higher wakeup cortisol level. Importantly, this link between responsiveness and healthy cortisol was driven, at least in part, by diminishing negative emotions over the decade. In other words, believing that one's partner cares--this perception leads to a decline in negative emotions, which in turn affects cortisol--and ultimately health.

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Category(s):Health / Illness / Medical Issues, Relationships & Marriage

Source material from Huffington Post