The Hidden Toll of an Unhealthy Marriage

“Choosing to stay in a bad relationship will quickly age you because of the stress you’ll create for yourself.” Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D.

 

Our marriages are supposed to be the most important and most intimate relationship we have. It’s supposed to be the cornerstone of the family and the stable, supportive presence when life gets hard. But when our marriages begin falling apart, so does our physical and emotional well-being, impacting literally every area of our lives:

  • We’re unable to focus at work.
  • We’re not as present or patient with our children as we would like.
  • We numb the sharp edges of our lives in order to avoid the depression or anxiety we feel.
  • We don’t sleep well because our minds are spinning around in the questions and we neglect the nutrition we need because, frankly, self-care is the last on the list right now.
  • Our physical bodies react and develop chronic pain and chronic diseases.

 

Dis-Ease in Our Bodies

I know we’ve been taught to think about our emotional well-being and our physical well-being as two separate and unique buckets. But walk through this with me:

Think back to a time when you felt like you were in fight or flight mode.

  • Maybe you just had a big argument with your partner.
  • Maybe you just found out that your husband has been communicating with another woman.
  • Maybe you are struggling with a challenge in your life, but you feel all alone and scared about the potential outcome.

Now think about how that felt in your body.

  • Maybe there was a knot in your stomach or you had a racing heart.
  • Maybe your breathing felt heavy and labored or you just felt like running away.

Think about the impact those physical sensations are having on the trillions of cells within your body.

Now imagine carrying that feeling for days or months or even years and the impact to your cells over time.

My client, Cassie, had been struggling in her marriage for years, feeling completely alone, both physically and emotionally. Her husband was always golfing because it was his favorite thing to do. He got fired from his job and checked-out, leaving her to carry and manage the financial load. The kids became teenagers and got into some trouble (as teens do), and she was always the disciplinarian. The house, the kids, her career, what’s for dinner, the homework, the sports, the family vacations, the holidays, paying the bills; it was all on her. To keep her head above water, she never stopped paddling and never stopped pushing.

She shared with me the moment when she was sitting in her doctor’s office and he tells her the tests came back positive. She had breast cancer. He said it very matter-of-factly and immediately started explaining what the treatment would look like before the news could even sink in.

She spend the next six months going to treatments – by herself. Going to check-ups – by herself. Scared and crying herself to sleep at night – on the couch, by herself.

Now, clearly I’m no doctor and it’s not as though we can draw a specific cause and effect here, but I think we can agree that everything Cassie was feeling and enduring in her most important and her most intimate relationship didn’t help her. She knows this to be true; she feels it in the same way you know anything you have no proof of.

Maybe the outcome wouldn’t have been different; maybe with a perfect marriage, she would have still contracted breast cancer.

Or maybe in a great marriage, the healthy cells within her body would have healed themselves before it ever became a big enough problem within her to warrant the diagnosis of cancer.

At a very simplistic level, here’s how I understand it:

  1. Our relationships impact our emotions – either positively or negatively.
  2. Our emotions cause physical reactions in our bodies – either positive or negative.
  3. The physical reactions in our bodies impact the health of our cells – either positively or negatively.

We are whole people, not compartmentalized pieces.

The worst negative emotion you can feel is that of despair and disempowerment. If you’ve been feeling stuck, not knowing how to stay, but not knowing how to go either, that is taking a toll on you in some way.

If you’ve been feeling lost, sad and alone…that is taking a toll.

If you’ve been angry, filled with jealousy or fear…that is taking a toll.

What price are you paying for either not making it better or not lovingly releasing it either?