According to a new study, couples who have high levels of marital discord are at increased risk for coronary artery disease (CAD). “Marital disruption (i.e., separation, divorce) and strain (i.e., conflict, dissatisfaction) predict the development of CHD (coronary heart disease) and poor prognosis for heart patients,” said Timothy W. Smith of the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah. “The uncertain role of marital quality in early stages of coronary artery disease (CAD) before the onset of clinically apparent CHD complicates the design of CHD risk assessments and risk-reducing interventions.” Marital discord can be strongly impacted by levels of affiliation and control and gender. “Women are sometimes more distressed by low affiliation in close relationships than are men, whereas men are often more troubled by concerns involving status or control,” said Smith.
In order to determine exactly what factors of marital discord affect heart health the most, Smith interviewed 153 couples and assessed their levels of anxiety and anger during a disagreement. Each participant rated their level of marital satisfaction and completed a coronary artery calcification (CAC) test. Smith found that the couples with the highest levels of discord exhibited increased anger and negative affect during the experiment. “Discordant couples also rated their spouses as generally lower in affiliation and somewhat higher in control during marital interactions and reported lower marital satisfaction, higher marital conflict, and less support from their spouse,” said Smith.
“As predicted, the discordant group had higher levels of CAC, independent of demographic characteristics, and biomedical and behavioral risk factors.” Smith added, “Hence, the association of behavior during marital disagreement with early, asymptomatic CAD was evident in discrete couple groups similar to those identified in taxometric studies of marital discord.” Smith believes these findings could lead to earlier detection and prevention of CAD. “Despite the added difficulty and expense, behavioral observations of couple interactions may be an important methodological approach in studying the association of relationship quality with cardiovascular health.”
Smith, T. W., Uchino, B. N., Berg, C. A., & Florsheim, P. (2011, December 19). Marital Discord and Coronary Artery Disease: A Comparison of Behaviorally Defined Discrete Groups. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026561
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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