Could a Bad Marriage Literally Break Your Heart?

A man clutches his chestA broken heart has become synonymous with the pain of romantic rejection and bad relationships. According to a new Michigan State University study, though, a bad marriage could quite literally break your heart—especially if you’re female.

Can Your Relationship Affect Your Heart Health?

Researchers decided to look at the effects of a bad marriage in older couples, since most marriage counseling and research into marital quality focuses on young people. They analyzed five years of data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging project, looking at about 1,200 married women and men ranging in age from 57 to 85. Participants answered questions about the quality of their marriages, in addition to undergoing lab tests and reporting their symptoms of and risks for cardiovascular disease.

The researchers found that people in bad marriages were more likely to have cardiovascular problems. They also learned that a bad marriage affects heart health more than a good marriage, and that women in bad marriages suffer more negative cardiovascular effects than men in bad marriages. They speculate that this may be because women are more likely to internalize negative feelings and to become depressed. The negative effects of a bad marriage on heart health increase with advancing age.

Researchers also found that heart disease itself could harm marriages, but only for women, not for men. They point out that previous research has found that women are more likely to care for sick spouses than to receive care when they are sick. Consequently, married women with heart disease may get less support and be subject to more stress than married men with heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people in the United States, and it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined, according to the American Heart Association.


  1. About heart disease in women. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Bad marriage, broken heart? (2014, November 19). Retrieved from

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  • Cora Tennyson

    November 26th, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    I watched my mom care for my dad for a number of years and yes it definitely took a toll on her health. There wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with her other than I think that the years and years that she gave up and sacrificed so much for him really got to her in the end.

  • Cassandra

    November 26th, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    Or is it all the issues with the heart that could lead to a bad marriage?

  • JJ

    November 27th, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    Somehow I just can’t see a cardiologist charged with maintaining one’s heart health now having to become a marriage therapist too!

  • grant

    November 29th, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    I don’t know whether it can break the heart but I do know that it probably does nothing to make a bad one any better.

    I have a pretty strong suspicion that many of our health problems that are physical can be traced back to our problems that are both mental or emotional in basis. I am sure that there are times when I feel sick that much of it boils down to stress that I am feeling in other areas of my life.

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