Marital stress has been known to interfere with several aspects of physical and mental health by significantly altering the blood pressure and endocrine levels. It has now been found from recent studies that a strained relationship between the husband and wife can actually delay the wound healing process. This observation is believed to be due to a corresponding change in the level of proinflammatory proteins (molecules that play a major role in wound healing) in the blood.
The study was conducted among 42 healthy married couples (married an average of 12.6 years) to explore the effects of marital stress on health. More specifically, it was designed to assess the associated production of proinflammatory proteins and their role in wound healing.
The couples, who were admitted to the hospital on two occasions, underwent a structured social support interaction, followed by a discussion of their marital disagreement and rating of their behaviour and responses. A vaccum pump was used to produce blisters on the arm and was examined for wound healing over a 12-day period. Simultaneously, samples were drawn to measure cytokine levels in the blood.
Analysis of the results revealed that couples who experienced marital conflicts had a slower healing process. Infact in couples with higher levels of hostile behaviors, the rate of healing was 60% lower compared to their counterparts and increased by a margin of one day or more. In addition, a corresponding fluctuation in the cytokine levels was also documented.
The findings of the present study have valuable clinical implications. First, it throws light on the importance of marital stress and related depression. Furthermore, couples in strained relationships tend to respond in an immunologically aggressive way to stressful events.
If these changes in the plasma levels of these cytokines are allowed to persist for a long time, perhaps it could have devastating effects on the individual health status in ways that are not foreseen at the moment. A variety of age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes mellitus, certain cancers, a decline in the functionality could be manifested in an otherwise healthy younger generation.
In conclusion more such studies have to be conducted to identify individuals with troubled relationships and appropriate measures have to be taken to improve their mental and physical health.