unhappy couple photo Marital Status and marital strain seems to increase the risk of coronary heart disease, according to research called The Framingham Offspring Study, which began in 1984 and continued for the next ten years.

The bottom line: a bad marriage can kill you.

The study, conducted at Framingham, Massachusetts by Elaine D. Eaker, ScD and colleagues, focused on a ten-year follow-up of selected subjects to determine if marriage and marital strain are related to the incidence of coronary heart disease.

Research has previously demonstrated associations between marital strain and prognosis of heart disease, but little research has addressed the association between specific aspects of marital strain and heart disease. Hence Eaker’s study is a pioneering work on this topic and will undoubtedly lead to other research that will add more details about the prognoses of not only heart disease but other diseases as well.

According to the present study, women who “self-silenced” during conflicts with their spouse, compared with women who did not, had four times the risk of dying. Men with wives who were upset by their work were 2.7 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease. The study clearly suggests that marital communication, conflict, and strain are associated with adverse health outcomes.

One of the important aspects of the Framington Study is that it highlights the importance of constructive communication in marriage. When there is constructive communication, marital strains are minimized. Destructive communication, which is often about giving your partner or spouse a psychological beating until he or she sees it your way, leads to adverse health. When husbands and wives don’t say what’s on their minds, they are more likely to suffer from heart disease.

But what exactly is constructive communication? The key to constructive communication is resolution. It involves both parties sharing feelings and thoughts in order to get to the bottom of things, not in order to win or to prove who is right. The goal is marital resolution, not marital revolution. It is a way of communicating that therefore leads to contentment and peace, rather than to stress and strain.

Often couples want to change each other. Constructive communication is about accepting each other, or at least accepting what can’t be changed.

This is easier said than done. To be able to participate in honest sharing, one has to be able to be honest with oneself. In order to be honest with oneself, one has to have grown up in a household that modeled such self-honesty, or one must learn to be self-honest with your partner or in therapy.

Constructive communication involves talking, not shouting or guilt-tripping or being sarcastic or calling names; and it takes place in an atmosphere of calm and neutrality. It ends in some kind of negotiation and compromise. This coming to a resolution or an agreement brings peace, and peace brings good health.

All too often people in relationships lose sight of constructive communication. Instead, they point fingers at one another and play the blame game. Women “self-silence” perhaps hoping that their silence will somehow elicit sympathy or punish or guilt-trip their spouse into giving them what they want.

Men shrug their shoulders or work too long or live with their computers in order to avoid a conversation with their wives. They often view their wife’s attempts to talk about things as demands or lectures.

Couples in destructive marriages communicate through acting out their feelings (through the silent treatment and all the other ways mentioned before, rather than sharing their feelings. It seems safer at the time to present a cold shoulder than to say, “I feel hurt and angry,” but in the long run it is definitely not safe. In the long run acting out feelings creates distance, not closeness and indifference (or even hate), not love.

Years of these kinds of dishonest and toxic communication lead to years of stress and then to chronic stress. Years of chronic stress lead to heart disease, as mentioned in Eaker’s study, and exacerbate many other kinds of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, liver failure, or strokes.

And, finally, after years of struggling with these diseases, members of marriages (or long-time love partners) can look forward to the disease taking over their lives and leading them to early death, the ultimate resolution.

Marriage: you can live with it or you can die from it.