Be honest: has your spouse ever made your blood pressure rise? New research shows that the marriage relationship, more than any other, will impact your blood pressure—for better or for worse.
Not surprisingly, the happily married have lower blood pressure than the unhappily married. The big news: those in happy marital relationships have lower blood pressure than single adults, even lower than singles with supportive social networks, according to assistant professor of psychology Julianne Holt-Lunstad (BS ’94).
In her study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, participants wore portable, concealed blood-pressure monitors for a 24-hour period and completed questionnaires about the quality of their relationships, married or single. Happily marrieds scored four points lower than singles in overall blood pressure. The contrast was particularly evident at night; men and women in happy marriages enjoyed deeper “nocturnal dipping” in blood pressure while they slept.
“Nocturnal dipping is a much better predictor of cardiovascular outcomes than blood pressure taken in a clinic,” Holt-Lunstad says. “Individuals who don’t have this dip at night have been linked to a greater risk for mortality—primarily [from] heart disease.”
However, simply getting married won’t ensure the benefits of lower blood pressure. Those in discontented marriages actually had higher blood pressure than the single adults in the study. And though Holt-Lunstad did not include divorced individuals in her research, she says at least one other study suggests that divorcees have higher blood pressure than both singles and individuals in unhappy marriages.
“This research suggests and perhaps underscores the importance of maintaining a good quality relationship with your spouse,” she says.