Stressful Marriages Help Couples to Better Manage Stress

August 18, 2010

Couples in long-term, romantic relationships exhibit lower cortisol response to stress than individuals without partners, according to a new study by the University of Chicago. As stressful as marriage can be, "social support can act as a buffer."

This article originally published on HCPLive.com.

Individuals in a long-term, romantic relationship will exhibit a lower cortisol response to stress than both males and females without partners, according to new research from the University of Chicago.

The study, which investigated sex variation in the body’s hormonal response to psychological stress, agrees with a growing body of research suggesting that as stressful as marriage and committed relationships can be, “social support can act as a buffer.”

In order to test stress response, researchers recruited 500 MBA students to take a “computerized economic decision-making tests” that they claimed was required coursework and would impact their future career placement. By measuring changes in “salivary concentrations of testosterone,” researchers were able to demonstrate that “males had higher concentrations of testosterone and cortisol than females both before and after the test,” while females exhibited a larger post-test increase in cortisol; testosterone decreased in males post-test, but not in females.

The study also found that single business-school students also displayed higher baseline testosterone levels than their married or committed colleagues, a finding that mirrors previous human research as well as animal observations.

Lead author Dario Maestripieri, Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago says that hopes that such studies can help healthcare professionals better “understand normative patterns of hormonal responses to psychosocial stimuli as well as identify the sources of interindividual variation in endocrine function.”

Maestripieri, who conducts the majority of his research on monkeys in Puerto Rico, said he saw simlar changes in species of primates and birds where males assist females with rearing offspring. In species that exhibit monogamous pairings and shared rearing of offspring, testosterone levels in males drop as they engage in more fatherly behavior.