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Stressful Marriages Linked To Depression In New Study

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Courtney Keating via Getty Images

It's long been said that marriage is good for your health, but as anyone who has gone through divorce knows, a bad marriage can take a huge toll on your well being -- and now a new study is proof of that.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied 116 married and/or cohabiting adults over the course of 11 years and found that marital stress may make people more vulnerable to depression.

At the beginning of the study, participants filled out questionnaires regarding marital stress in which they were asked questions such as how often they felt let down by their spouse and how often their spouse was a source of tension. They were also analyzed for symptoms of depression. (Note that about half of the participants were male, and the other half were female).

Approximately nine years later, they were assessed for marital stress and depression again. And after another two-plus years had passed, the participants were asked to come into the lab for an "emotional response test" in which they looked at 90 images flashed across a computer screen while their emotional reactions were measured by researchers. (The graph below details the timeline of the study).

study timeline

From the emotional response test, researchers determined that those individuals who had experienced chronic stress in their marriages over the years had more trouble responding to the positive stimuli (ie. the positive pictures) -- an indicator of depression.

“This is not an obvious consequence, if you will, of marital stress, but it's one I think is extraordinarily important," study author Dr. Richard Davidson in a press release.

The study was published in the April 2014 Journal of Psychophysiology.

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