Stress and Negative Relationship Quality among Older Couples: Implications for Blood Pressure

Objectives. The cardiovascular system may represent a significant pathway by which marriage and stress influence health, but research has focused on married individuals cross-sectionally. This study examined associations among chronic stress, negative spousal relationship quality, and systolic blood pressure over time among middle-aged and older husbands and wives.Method. Participants were from the nationally representative longitudinal Health and Retirement Study. A total of 1,356 (N = 2,712) married and cohabitating couples completed psychosocial and biomeasure assessments in waves 2006 and 2010. Analyses examined whether Wave 1 (2006) relationship quality and stress were associated with changes in blood pressure over time.Results. The effects of stress and negative relationship quality were dyadic and varied by gender. Husbands had increased blood pressure when wives reported greater stress, and this link was exacerbated by negative spousal relationship quality. Negative relationship quality predicted increased blood pressure when both members of the couple reported negative quality relations.Discussion. Findings support the dyadic biopsychosocial model of marriage and health indicating: (a) stress and relationship quality directly effect the cardiovascular system, (b) relationship quality moderates the effect of stress, and (c) the dyad rather than only the individual should be considered when examining marriage and health.