Marital Stress Affects the Hearts of Husbands and Wives Differently

That applies to disease, just as it does to social relationships. One recent study from the Mayo Clinic, for example, revealed that mental stress affects women's hearts more than men's. The study also showed that the rate of coronary disease has declined among men but not among women.

Other studies have shown that men are particularly concerned about the level of control in social situations, including close relationships. Guys want to be the top dog, regardless of the arena.

That shows up in many ways, Smith says, including the situation in which a man finds himself married to a woman who has a higher education, or, more important, job, than he does Those men are in danger of increased coronary risk, Smith says, a finding that left some researchers wondering "what the heck is that all about."

"One of the interpretations is that situation poses a low level but chronic status challenge," he says.

The Utah research may trouble some because the findings are based on a single, six-minute videotaped session with each couple, but Smith insists that meets commonly practiced standards.

"You have to be cautious when drawing broad, sweeping conclusions on the basis of one session," he says. "The assumption is we are getting a snapshot of a long-standing relationship. That's probably not way off base."

As he notes, the research is also consistent with other findings, and it does offer a way to measure the actual coronary impact of various types of marital stress.

It doesn't rank up there with smoking or obesity or lack of exercise in terms of heart disease, he adds. But it probably belongs somewhere on the list.

And it suggests that spats with a spouse may be a lot more serious than we might have thought. Maybe, given enough time, those fights could kill you.

So it probably makes a lot of sense to just get over it.

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