Is There Something Unique about Marriage? The Relative Impact of Marital Status, Relationship Quality, and Network Social Support on Ambulatory Blood Pressure and Mental Health

Abstract

Background

Having close social relationships and being married specifically have been reliably associated with health benefits including lower morbidity and mortality.

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of marital status, relationship quality, and network support on measures of psychological and cardiovascular health.

Method

We examined ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) among 204 married and 99 single males and females (N = 303).

Results

We found that both marital status and marital quality were important. Married individuals had greater satisfaction with life (SWL) and blood pressure dipping than single individuals. High marital quality was associated with lower ABP, lower stress, less depression, and higher SWL. Importantly, contrasting those who are unmarried with those in low-quality marriages, we find that single individuals had lower ABP—suggesting that single individuals fare better than their unhappily married counterparts. Likewise, having a supportive network did not moderate (i.e., buffer) the effects of being single or unhappily married.

Conclusions

Findings indicate being married per se is not universally beneficial, rather, the satisfaction and support associated with such a relationship is important. However, marriage may be distinctive, as evidence further suggests that support from one’s network does not compensate for the effect of being single. These results highlight the complexities in understanding the influence of social relationships on long-term health, and they may help clarify the physiological pathways by which such associations exist.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Unmarried participants included 12 that were divorced and 1 was widowed. Analyses were repeated dropping these 13 individuals, and our findings were consistent with what is reported.

  2. 2.

    Gender was found to significantly predict 24-h and waking SBP. We found no interactions effects between marital status or quality and gender for any of our primary DVs (p > 0.05).

  3. 3.

    Pre-hypertensive status did not interact with either marital status or quality on ABP.

  4. 4.

    This median split also corresponds well with validity data [23] indicating that 96% of well-adjusted couples had scores above 100 and the 83% of maladjusted couples had scores below 100.

  5. 5.

    This finding was moderated by pre-hypertensive/normotensive status such that the effect was strongest among pre-hypertensives. When comparing unmarried to happily married (above the median for MAT and satisfaction) individuals, results were consistent with the overall marital status findings.

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Acknowledgment

This research was generously supported by grants awarded to Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad from the Marchionne Foundation and the Family Studies Center at Brigham Young University.

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Correspondence to Julianne Holt-Lunstad Ph.D..

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Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W. & Jones, B.Q. Is There Something Unique about Marriage? The Relative Impact of Marital Status, Relationship Quality, and Network Social Support on Ambulatory Blood Pressure and Mental Health. ann. behav. med. 35, 239–244 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-008-9018-y

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Keywords

  • Marriage
  • Social support
  • Ambulatory blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular
  • Stress
  • Depression