Based on the study results, the researchers suggest that even older couples in bad marriages could benefit from marriage counseling.From Science Daily:
Older couples in a bad marriage -- particularly female spouses -- have a higher risk for heart disease than those in a good marriage, finds the first nationally representative study of its kind.
Liu analyzed five years of data from about 1,200 married men and women who participated the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. Respondents were aged 57-85 at the beginning of the study...Liu set out to learn how marital quality is related to risk of heart disease over time, and whether this relationship varies by gender and/or age. Among her findings:
Negative martial quality (e.g., spouse criticizes, spouse is demanding) has a bigger effect on heart health than positive marital quality (e.g., spousal support). In other words, a bad marriage is more harmful to your heart health than a good marriage is beneficial.
The effect of marital quality on cardiovascular risk becomes much stronger at older ages. Over time, the stress from a bad marriage may stimulate more, and more intense, cardiovascular responses because of the declining immune function and increasing frailty that typically develop in old age, Liu said.
Marital quality has a bigger effect on women's heart health than it does on men's, possibly because women tend to internalize negative feelings and thus are more likely to feel depressed and develop cardiovascular problems, Liu said.
Heart disease leads to a decline in marital quality for women, but not for men. This is consistent with the longstanding observation that wives are more likely to provide support and care to sick husbands, while husbands are less likely to take care of sick wives.