Staying in a bad marriage can be hell for a lot of reasons. You’re not happy. You feel like you always have to walk on eggshells. Your life is not where you want it to be. What’s worse, you’re not sure how it got to be this bad, or what you can do to change it!
In truth, you’re not sure you even know who you are any more.
You may be seriously thinking of divorce, but it’s a huge decision. So, for now you’re just staying where you are: stuck in a bad marriage, but too scared or unsure of yourself to get out.
If you find yourself spinning in circles trying to decide whether to get a divorce, here’s one more factor to throw into the mix: your current situation may be impacting your health.
Science has shown that staying in a bad marriage can (quite literally) kill you.
The Science of Relationships
While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that unhappy marriages are stressful, you might be surprised by how much being in a bad marriage affects your health and well-being.
Researchers have found that people in unhappy marriages are at higher risk for depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. They also don’t heal as well after an injury or illness.
What’s more, if you are unhappily married, it’s not just your physical health that suffers. Unhappily married people also suffer from lower self-esteem and higher psychological distress than their happily married counterparts.
For those whose marriages are not simply unhappy, but rise to the level of being considered “toxic,” the negative physical and mental effects of their bad marriage are even more pronounced.
A Michigan State University study showed that there is a 34% increase in the rate of heart problems for those involved in toxic relationships. Another study showed that those who live in constant conflict are likely to die 11 years sooner than those who experience less conflict.
In short, as Gottman Institue certified couples’ therapist Carrie Cole states, “Staying in a seriously unhappy marriage can have long-term effects on our mental and emotional health.”
Here are 10 ways that staying in a bad marriage can negatively affect your health.
10 Negative Health Effects of Being in a Bad Marriage
Increased Risk of Depression, Anxiety and Anger.
It’s not surprising that being in a bad marriage can hurt your mental health. When you feel like you’re stuck in a bad marriage, and you can’t see a way out, you get depressed. Walking on eggshells all the time contributes to anxiety. When your spouse constantly belittles you, or you feel like a loser because your marriage is a wreck, your self-esteem takes a huge hit. In short, being in a bad marriage can wreak havoc in your emotional and psychological life.
Increase Risk of Heart Disease.
Staying in a bad marriage can literally break your heart. Researchers have found that the impact of stress (including marital stress) on the body equals the negative effects of other risk factors, like physical inactivity and smoking. It also increases high blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity (see below). All of those conditions increase your risk of heart disease. Women and older couples, in particular, seem to be more susceptible to increased rates of heart disease caused by marital stress.
Increased Risk of High Blood Pressure.
Arguing with your spouse can raise your blood pressure so much that it feels like your head is going to explode! When that arguing becomes a way of life, your body lives in a constant state of tension and stress. The result is not only that your blood pressure stays elevated all the time.
Disturbed Sleeping Patterns.
It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re angry, upset, or just spinning in your head. To get a good night’s sleep, you need to be able to relax. Yet, often when you’re in a bad marriage, relaxing (and sleeping) become difficult. So you wake up in the morning already exhausted. Slogging through your day in that condition puts even more stress on your body, which, in turn, can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
Increased Risk of Diabetes.
Stress raises blood sugar levels. Chronic stress not only increases blood sugar levels, but it raises the level of the stress hormones in your system. All of this causes the body, over time, to become insulin-resistant. That, in turn, leads you to develop Type II Diabetes.
Studies have shown that increased stress causes an increase in the “bad” cholesterol in your body. High cholesterol, in turn, can increase your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
Increased Rate of Obesity.
Yes, a bad marriage can actually make you fat! Studies have shown that chronic stress affects the way that your body metabolizes high fat foods. When you add to that the fact that you tend to eat more when you are upset or depressed, it’s not hard to see how those who are unhappily married can easily pack on a lot of extra pounds.
Slower Rate of Healing.
Studies have shown that couples who are stressed and upset don’t heal as quickly> as others. If you have recently had surgery, or suffered an injury, your healing process will likely take longer if you’re in an unhealthy marriage than it would if you were in a loving one.
Decreased Immune System Functioning.
When you’re in a bad marriage, you tend to get sick more often than others. Chronic stress causes you to live in a constant state of hyper-alertness. This, in turn, causes your adrenal glands to flood your body with stress-hormones. It lowers the production of germ-fighting cells, and leaves your body more vulnerable to illness and infections.
Increased Participation in Bad Health Habits.
When you’re all stressed out from your marriage, the temptation to soothe yourself with food, booze, drugs, or other things that aren’t good for you, can be overwhelming. You want to feel better, so you try to numb your pain. You try to forget about your problems for awhile. Unfortunately, if you indulge yourself too much, you end up with both a bad marriage and an unhealthy addiction.
Deciding Whether to Divorce
A lot of factors affect whether you should stay in a bad marriage, or get a divorce. Many of those factors are complicated. Most are serious.
But, so is your health. Being unhappily married can (literally) make you sick.
Of course, improving your marriage can probably turn your health around as much as getting a divorce would. But doing nothing – enduring life in a bad marriage simply because you aren’t sure you should get a divorce – can be deadly.
As science has repeatedly shown: living in a bad marriage can be as harmful to your health as drinking too much, eating junk food, or being a couch potato.