You’ll probably not be surprised to read that an individual’s physical and psychological experiences are affected by their relationships. So marital functioning is consequential for health!

Good relationships have positive impacts on health. The beneficial effects of marriage on health have been documented across many societies. Being in a romantic relationship usually indicates greater social integration, which has been found to be associated with better health outcomes and longevity. It has also been well established that people who are married live longer than those who are not married. Married individuals also have been shown to have better health experiences than non-married individuals in a number of areas, including pain and pain-related disability, periodontal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, heart health, neurological disorders, ulcers, and self-reports of overall health status. Relationship functioning generally has been found to be associated with cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune functioning (Rankin-Esquer et al., 2000; Robles and Kiecolt- Glaser, 2003).

A recent study by the University of East Anglia, of 25,000 people in England, it was found that among people having a heart attack, those who were married were 14% more likely to survive and they were able to leave the hospital sooner than single people having a heart attack. The findings emphasise the importance of physical and emotional support after the event. And more recent research, such as a University of Michigan study from 2016, suggests that “stress and [negative] relationship quality directly effect the cardiovascular system”.

Therefore it is perhaps not surprising that bad relationships too influence health. These include negative dimensions and indirect influences on health outcomes through depression and health habits, and direct influences on cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, neurosensory, and other physiological mechanisms. Some of the physical side effects of a toxic relationship include disrupted sleep, poor nutrition, digestive issues, muscle tightness, fatigue and feeling constantly worn down, disease development, illness severity, and accelerated biological aging as well as immunity issues manifesting in getting ill more frequently.

According to a review of 148 studies, strong social relationships reduce mortality by an average of 50% (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010).  In addition unhappy relationships are associated with a decreased chance of individuals making positive health behaviour changes, decreased well-being, increased prevalence of mental disorders, greater health problems, and increased mortality rates (Tucker, 2002;Walen and Lachman, 2000). Social influences on health are clearly just as powerful as diet, smoking, and exercise.

A secure bond is a profound resource which carries profound health benefits. Feelings of attachment and intimacy often provide individuals with an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life. From a safe haven and secure base couples go into the world feeling stronger, fully equipped to face lifes’ challenges as well as more confident. These positive emotions are related to many beneficial health effects, including lower disease incidence, less health-related symptoms, and increased longevity (Pressman and Cohen, 2005). In addition romantic partners often are involved in monitoring and influencing each other’s health behaviours by engaging in health-related social control.

But when spousal support efforts don’t hit the mark, in that they are either excessive or incongruent with their spouces’ needs, these ineffective types of support have the ability to decrease feelings of self-efficacy, autonomy, and overall well-being. Spouses also can sometimes act in ways toward each other that are critical, insensitive, or demanding, which will likely arouse emotional distress. These emotions are associated with engagement in poor heath behaviours (Rook et al., 2010), and may elicit harmful physiological responses that, if chronic, have the ability to cause wear-and-tear on the body over time (McEwen and Seeman, 2003). In fact, these negative social interactions have been found to have a more potent effect on health and well-being than positive social interactions (Rook, 2013).

So what better time than now to sort out your relationship issues. Don’t let negativity affect your relationship or your health!

If you need to talk about your situation with a professional – contact us:


August, Kristin & Kelly, Caitlin & Markey, Charlotte. (2016). Marriage, Romantic Relationships, and Health. Encyclopedia of Mental Health.

BURLESON, MARY H., et al. “MARRIAGE, AFFECTIONATE TOUCH, AND HEALTH.” Health and Social Relationships: The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated, edited by Matthew L. Newman and Nicole A. Roberts, American Psychological Association, 2013, pp. 67–94. 

Cohen S. Social relationships and health: Berkman & Syme (1979). Adv Mind Body Med. 2001 Winter;17(1):5-7. 

Manzoli L, Villari P, M Pirone G, Boccia A. Marital status and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Soc Sci Med. 2007 Jan;64(1):77-94. 

Rankin-Esquer, Lynn A., Allison Deeter, and C. Barr Taylor. “Coronary heart disease and couples.” (2000).

Robles, Theodore F., and Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser. “The physiology of marriage: Pathways to health.” Physiology & behavior 79.3 (2003): 409-416.

 Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review.

Tucker, Joan S. “Health-related social control within older adults’ relationships.” The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 57.5 (2002): P387-P395.

Lorie A. Resendes & Ruth McCorkle (2006) Spousal Responses to Prostate Cancer: An Integrative Review, Cancer Investigation, 24:2, 192-198.

Walen, H. R., & Lachman, M. E. (2000). Social Support and Strain from Partner, Family, and Friends: Costs and Benefits for Men and Women in Adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships17(1), 5–30.

Pressman, S. D., & Cohen, S. (2005). Does positive affect influence health? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 925–971.

Rook, Karen S., Kristin J. August, and Dara H. Sorkin. “Social network functions and health.” (2011).

McEwen, Bruce S., and Teresa Seeman. “Stress and affect: Applicability of the concepts of allostasis and allostatic load.” (2003).

Rook, Karen S. “Investigating the Positive and Negative Sides of Personal Relationships: through a Lens Darkly?.” The dark side of close relationships (2013): 156.