A spouse’s stress level can impact their partner’s systolic blood pressure (SBP),particularly if there is a higher reported level of negative relationshipquality, according to a study in Journals of Gerontology, Series B:Psychological Sciences.

Researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor aimed to explorelongitudinal associations between chronic stress, negative relationshipquality, and SBP among married and cohabitatingcouples. A total of 1,356 married and cohabitating couples in thenationally representative longitudinal Health and Retirement Studycompleted psychosocial and biomeasure assessments in 2006 and 2010; thestudy authors sought to investigate potential direct associations betweenchronic stress, negative relationship quality, and systolic blood pressureamong couples and whether the link between stress and systolic bloodpressure is moderated by negative relationship quality among the couples.Variations based on gender were also reviewed.

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Both husbands and wives reported overall low levels of chronic stress andnegative relationship quality, although wives reported greater chronicstress and negative spousal/partner quality vs. husbands. Husbands hadhigher SPB in both 2006 and 2010 compared to the wives, but SBP increasedover time for both genders. Contrary to the study hypothesis, greaterreported stress was a predictor of decreased BP and there was no maineffect of partner stress on blood pressure. A significant interaction wasobserved between partner reports of stress and gender in predicting SBP.Husbands experienced higher SBP when the wives reported greater stress, buthusband-reported stress had no effect on the wives’ SBP. Husbands whoreported greater stress had lower SPB when their wives reported lowerstress, while wives who reported greater stress had lower SBP when theirhusbands reported greater stress. There were no main effects of negativespousal relationship quality of actor or partner on SPB and no significantinteractions between negative relationship quality and gender. Partnerstress was associated with increased SBP when partners reported higherlevels of negative relationship quality, likely aggravating the effects ofstress. Wives’ reports of stress predicted higher SBP among husbands whenhusbands reported greater negative relationship quality.

These findings suggest that husbands appear to be more negatively affectedby wives’ stress compared to the reverse, especially when they felt morenegative regarding the relationship. Because husbands may rely on spousesfor support, it may not be provided when wives are experiencing high levelsof stress. This study supports the importance of assessing the impact ofboth partners on individual health, particularly regarding SBP and othercardiovascular disease factors.

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