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Feeling Sick? How's Your Marriage?

A new study from Duke and the University Of Chicago looked at the long-term health consequences of people who are married, divorced, widowed, remarried, and single.

What researchers found, reports The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay, is that people who had a disruption of marriage, like divorce or death, were in worse health than those who remained married. The quality of the marriage was also important to good health, with people in poor marriages in worse health than those in good marriages.

The study looked at health factors like depression, chronic disease and restricted mobility. The strongest link was found between chronic disease that develops over time, like diabetes or cancer, in people who had a disruption in marriage. This builds on previous research by the same team that showed more health problems in people who lived in extended family households where they were more likely to be caregivers for grandparents or grandchildren.

This research can't show exactly how relationships affect the body, but the researchers presume that stress plays the biggest role. The physical risks of chronic stress have been linked to a higher incidence of all sorts of diseases. The stresses of caregiving or the trauma of a divorce can affect health over long periods.

So what can we do to manage the stress of difficult relationships?

Studies like these underline the importance of maintaining good relationships, and of seeking out ways of dealing with grief and stress in relationships. There are lots of ways to get professional help, and it's important to seek advice early for relationship problems. Talk to a doctor or a mental health professional if you're chronically stressed or unhappy in a relationship, or you have feelings of depression or grief that persist for long periods of time.

The AARP has some good advice for caregivers.

  • Make sure you remember to take care of your own health, too
  • Eat right
  • Get enough sleep and exercise
  • Get regular medical checkups
  • Involve others, and delegate the jobs and chores you need help with
  • Maintain social contacts
  • Avoid isolating yourself
  • Focus on something besides life's problems
  • Get help from community services and organizations that support caregivers
  • Talk to family and friends about your problems and feelings
  • Seek a professional counselor or a support group if you need to
  • And try to find ways to deal constructively with negative feelings. When feeling resentful, think about how to change things for the better.