Happy wife, happy heart.
A new study suggests that men whose wives are stressed are more likely to suffer from higher systolic blood pressure than those with more relaxed spouses. Women's hearts, on the other hand, don't seem to be affected by a husband's stress levels.
No, the women didn't simply nag their husbands until their blood pressures spiked. The University of Michigan researchers behind the study hypothesized that the spike had more to do with the fact that these husbands relied on their wives for support so much so that when their female partners weren't as available to tend to their emotions, their heart health took a hit.
After looking at questionnaires and health assessment reports from 1,356 married and cohabiting couples, the researchers found that men in the sample had higher blood pressure than the women and women in the sample had higher stress levels than the men. And there was a significant relationship between wives' reports of stress and their husbands' elevated blood pressure.
If a wife is stressed out, it makes sense that she may not be as doting as she usually is. But that still doesn't explain why a husband would experience higher blood pressure in response. To provide a possible explanation, the researchers turned to gender norms:
Women tend to provide more support to husbands than the reverse; husbands also tend to rely on their wives for support, whereas wives rely on their broader social networks for support. Women also prefer to discuss their relationships and stress with husbands, whereas husbands are more likely to withdraw, and 'relationship talk' is more strongly linked to marital satisfaction among wives than husbands.
Essentially, women have female socialization to thank for their resilient hearts. Men, on the other hand, are expected to be strong silent types, so they're the ones who may suffer high blood pressure when their preoccupied wives aren't around to force them to talk about their feelings. (Previous research has linked loneliness and high blood pressure.)
Reductive? Maybe. Other studies have suggested women in strained marriages are more likely than men to suffer health consequences, including depression, obesity and -- yes -- high blood pressure. So take findings on marriage-induced health problems with a grain of salt.
This study was published this month in The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.