The four a.m. fights, “are we talking a break?” talks, and hours pouring over his Facebook pondering about his relationship with certain “friends” aren’t exactly fun—but did you know these signals of a failing relationship could actually be harmful to your health?
A recent study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that the lower the quality of interactions between a married couple, the thicker the person’s carotid artery, which can indicate an elevated risk of cardiac disease. Even scarier: People in the study who had an unhappy marriage had an 8.5 percent greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
While the study focused on middle-aged married adults, the authors say there are greater implications to their findings. “We tested whether blood pressure reactivity, health behaviors, and other traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors might have accounted for the relationship between marital interaction and artery thickness, and couldn’t find any,” explains study coauthor Nataria Joseph. That means marital or serious romantic relationships could play a role in overall health—regardless of other health factors.
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While Joseph adds that this study didn’t test the particular biological mechanisms responsible for this change, other studies have found that stress leads to a spike in cortisol, the so-called “fight or flight” stress hormone. In small doses, cortisol is effective—your body and brain flood with glucose for fuel, while certain body systems such as the immune system are temporarily suppressed. These changes occur so your body is fully equipped to confront whatever stressor is in front of you—a screaming boss, a mega-long to-do list, or, yeah, a bad-tempered boyfriend. These changes aren’t supposed to be permanent though. You confront the issue, chill out, and your body returns to normal. But when your system is constantly flooded with cortisol, your body (and heart) begin to suffer.
And if you need even more reasons to break up with the guys who’s literally breaking your heart, consider this: Other studies have found that happy unions can actually prevent illness. Bottom line: While your bad boy ex may have given you a dose of bad medicine, setting up a date with a good guy ensures you’ll feel great in the future.