Women looking for relief from workday stress may need to improve their marriages, according to a study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for the Everyday Lives of Families, published in January's Health Psychology (Vol. 27, No. 1).
In the study, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, 30 Los Angeles-area dual-earner married couples, all with school-age children, completed a marital satisfaction questionnaire and kept a diary of their moods and stress levels over three workdays. So that researchers could analyze cortisol concentrations, each adult also provided researchers with saliva samples-collected each day in the early morning, late morning, afternoon and evening. Long-term elevated cortisol levels may pose health risks such as depression and burnout, says Darby Saxbe, lead author of the article and a fifth-year UCLA clinical psychology student.
The researchers found that the happily married women rebounded quicker from daily stress-indicated by a steeper drop in cortisol throughout the day-than women in less blissful unions, says Saxbe. Men, no matter their marital quality, showed a steep drop in cortisol as the day progressed.
"Marriage is often seen as a health protective for men," Saxbe says. "But for women who report low marital quality, it looks like marriage may come with some costs."
The results provide a compelling example of the effect of relationships on physical stress and the importance of marital satisfaction in overall health improvement, Saxbe says.
"We have learned in health psychology that not only major traumas but minor hassles can impact the body's stress response systems and influence long-term physical health," she says. "It seems that marital counseling may be just as important a health intervention as a vitamin pill or a daily jog."