Is Your Love Life Hurting Your Heart?
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Is Your Love Life Hurting Your Heart?

Ahh, Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air, cards and flowers are piled high in grocery carts and hearts everywhere are skipping and fluttering.

Okay, so your heart may not literally be fluttering, but it is true that your relationships, romantic and otherwise, can have a positive (or negative) impact on your heart’s health.

How Relationships Impact Heart Health
“As time goes on, we’re recognizing more and more the value of healthy relationships,” says Kevin Wilson, LPC, LMFT of Research Psychiatric Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Not only do they make us feel warm and fuzzy – a solid relationship with friends, family and significant others also helps keep our stress levels low, improves our odds for recovery from illness and may even help us live longer.

On the other hand, rocky relationships can up our stress levels and put our health at serious risk in the following ways:

  1. Increased blood pressure. When a person is stressed, as is often the case in strained relationships, the body releases adrenaline and cortisol – chemicals that up heart rate and cause a spike in blood pressure. And while a slight increase in blood pressure every once in a while is not incredibly harmful, a continued increase can be damaging to our hearts over time. On the flip side, says Wilson, “when we’re in a good relationship, we’re often calmer and more at peace, and that translates into lower blood pressure, which ultimately affects our heart [favorably].”
  2. Higher likelihood of heart attack. A 2015 study conducted by specialists at the Duke Clinical Research Institute found that divorced women were more likely to suffer a heart attack than women who remained married for the length of the study (eight years). They also found that heart attack risk increases for men and women who have multiple divorces. Another study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that women in stressful or strained marriages who also had heart disease were almost three times more likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease than their happily coupled counterparts.
  3. A (literal) broken heart. Broken heart syndrome is a very real, but temporary condition that impairs the heart’s ability to pump effectively. It occurs when a person is under sudden physical or emotional stress, and causes symptoms that mimic those of a heart attack – chest pain, irregular heartbeat and shortness of breath. Both sexes can experience broken heart syndrome, but it’s more common in women.

​​Strengthening Your Relationships
The good news is that there are several things you can do to improve the quality of your relationship (and protect your heart health).

When your relationship hits a rough patch, open up the lines of communication, and be open and honest about how you’re feeling. It’s one of the most effective ways to navigate the tough spots. Also, don’t underestimate the value of small kindnesses. Leaving a sweet note on your way out the door or offering to make dinner, for example, go a long way in making a person feel loved and valued.

Give these tips a try, too:

  • Be intentional. Whether it’s a relaxing night with your kids or a date night with your special someone, spending quality time with those closest to you is critical to keeping relationships healthy. “Oftentimes my wife and I will carve out a date night or exercise together. We always make sure we’re doing something that’s intentional and consistent with our goal to remain in the relationship,” says Wilson.
  • Ditch the technology. We’ve all seen (and maybe have been) those couples sitting together at dinner, staring down at the cell phone instead of talking to each other. That’s not exactly quality time, says Wilson, and over time, it can be harmful to your relationship. “These couples are really not engaged with each other… and I think the continued increase in separations, and [hostility] in the home, has a direct relationship with this lack of connectedness – emotional and physical – with our partners,” he says. Next time you’re with someone who is important to you, put the phone away and make an effort to be present. Encourage them to do the same.
  • Try new things together. Whether it’s volunteering together, trying a new fitness class or visiting a place neither of you have been, new experiences have been proven to strengthen the bonds between couples and friends, says Wilson. “These help keep the relationship fresh and new,” so pick something new you'd both like to try and have fun!

See More from Kevin Wilson, LPC
As a teen, how can I manage stress?
How can I control my anger as teen?