Happily married women are less stressful with better mental health, revealed by UCLA researchers. They tracked levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, among 30 Los Angeles married couples.
“At least as far as women are concerned, being happily married appears to bolster physiological recovery from work,” said Darby E. Saxbe, the study’s lead author and a UCLA graduate student in clinical psychology. “After a tough day at the office, cortisol levels dropped further among happily married women than less happily married ones. Less happily married women also showed a flatter daily pattern of cortisol release, suggesting that they are rebounding less well from everyday stress.”
Long-term elevated cortisol levels have been associated with a host of maladies, including depression, burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome, relationship problems, poor social adjustment and possibly even cancer.
“This is the first study to show that daily cortisol patterns are linked to marital satisfaction for women but not men,” said co-author Rena Repetti, a UCLA professor in the department of psychology.
The findings appear in the January issue of Health Psychology, a peer-reviewed journal published by American Psychological Association.
“Cortisol may by one of the routes by which repeated everyday stress translates into long-term mental and physical health problems,” Repetti said.
Overall, women in happy marriages enjoyed stronger cortisol declines than their counterparts in less blissful unions, the UCLA team found. Men, no matter the quality of their marriage, showed an exaggerated cortisol decrease after busier days. However, only happily married women appeared to enjoy this benefit; unhappily married women did not show the exaggerated drop-off in cortisol after a busy day.
The investigators said additional research is needed to understand precisely how marital satisfaction influences the body’s stress response process.
Source: University of California, Los Angeles, USA