Past research may have found that old adage ‘happy wife, happy life’ to hold true, but wedding woes may wreck your waistline, according to a new study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
Researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Delaware found that an unhappy marriage affects each spouse’s body’s ability to regulate appetite and to make healthy diet choices—essentially confirming what you already knew about emotional eating.
The researchers recruited 43 couples who had been married for at least three years to participate in two nine hour sessions where they were asked to resolve a conflict in their relationship (sounds like couple’s counseling bootcamp!). These sessions were videotaped, and the research team later decoded them for signs of hostility, conflicted communication, and general discord.
After analyzing blood tests from the participants, researchers found that hostile arguments caused both spouses to have higher levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, but not leptin, the satiety hormone that tells us we’re full. They also found that fighting couples made poorer food choices than those in less distressed marriages. (See these 4 Ways to Outsmart Hunger Hormones.)
It should be noted that while these findings held true for those considered of average weight or overweight, marital stress did not have an effect on ghrelin levels in obese participants (with a BMI of 30 or higher). This is consistent with research suggesting that appetite-relevant hormones ghrelin and leptin may have different effects on people with a higher versus lower BMI, the study authors point out.
Of course, when it comes to a happy marriage, it’s a different story. A strong relationship can have some pretty great health perks, including a reduced risk for heart disease and dementia—not to mention these 9 Health Benefits of Love. And while of course some marital stress may be unavoidable, perhaps this latest research will help you remember to reach for a healthier snack to satisfy your hunger hormones after your next fight, rather than seeking comfort in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.