Can marriage make you sick?

New research reveals that marital strife is bad for your health.

By Cecelie Berry

Published December 6, 2005 7:46PM (EST)

More bad news for diehard advocates of marriage. Ohio State University researchers report that married couples who fight have a slower healing process. In a bizarre, but perhaps appropriately masochistic, experiment, married couples allowed themselves to be afflicted with blisters administered by a vacuum pump to the arm. They were asked to relax and enjoy themselves in one room, then to discuss issues that usually provoked disagreement in another.

The stress in the latter setting slowed the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, protein molecules that play a key role in the early stages of healing. However, couples with higher rates of conflict also had higher levels of the same cytokines in the bloodstream the morning after the argument. While early production of cytokines at a wound site is beneficial to early healing, a higher systemic level is harmful, leading to a variety of age-related diseases. The blisters of hostile couples healed at 60 percent the rate of the blisters of less hostile couples. Moreover, the mere presence of a spouse was, in terms of health, "not protective." One might infer from this that an indifferent marriage has no health benefits.

The study contributes to a "sizable body" of research that indicates that marital disagreement has adverse health consequences, which can include high blood pressure, depression, cardiovascular disease, frailty and functional decline.

The good news? Sometimes, you really are better off alone.

Cecelie Berry

Cecelie S. Berry is the editor of "Rise Up Singing: Black Women Writers on Motherhood," which received an American Book Award for 2005.

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