Happy Marriage Eases Wife's Workday Tension

But marriage quality had no effect on working men's stress, study found

TUESDAY, Jan. 1, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Coming home to a loving spouse and a good marriage helps working women shake off the stress of the day, new research confirms.

Men, on the other hand, often drop their stress at the door when they come home, regardless of the state of their union, reported psychology researchers.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, followed 30 married, parenting couples, with each partner employed in full-time jobs.

Over a three-day period, each of the 60 spouses completed a single survey about their satisfaction with their marriage and twice-daily questionnaires about their day. The researchers also took saliva samples four times a day (early morning, late morning, afternoon and evening) to test for cortisol, a hormone released by the body under stress.

"At least as far as women are concerned, being happily married appears to bolster physiological recovery from work," lead author Darby E. Saxbe said in a prepared statement. "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."

The researchers found that women in marriages who felt they were happily married saw a greater reduction in cortisol levels when they came home at the end of the work day than women who were less happily married. Cortisol levels in men dropped at the end of the day regardless of their satisfaction with their marriage.

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, according to the researchers.

This is the first study to examine daily cortisol levels with respect to marital satisfaction, said the researchers, who called for further research into the link between marriage and physical stress. The researchers suggested that people in happy marriages may have a more even balance of household responsibilities and may generally welcome an evening retreat from the world more than women in unhappy marriages.

The study is published in the January issue of Health Psychology.

More information

For more on stress management, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, Jan. 1, 2008
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