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Being in an ambivalent marriage may be bad for your health

Photo of Karen Lavin

If you are feeling conflicted about getting a divorce, you are certainly not alone. Divorce is a major decision that will impact nearly every aspect of your life, as well as the lives of your children. When the stakes are this high, it is natural to have some doubts.

You may wonder if you would be better off staying in your marriage, even if it is not a happy one. While no one else can make this decision for you, the results of a recent study might help.

Past studies have shown that married couples may live longer than their unmarried peers and may also enjoy better overall health and wellbeing. But it should come as no surprise that these results are not universal. The health benefits associated with being married are often contingent upon the health of the marriage itself.

A study published late last year found that couples who are in "ambivalent marriages" may have higher blood pressure (a factor of long-term health) than couples who are in mostly positive marriages. For the study, ambivalent meant that a person could not predict when their spouse would or wouldn't be supportive in a given situation.

There is a difference between an ambivalent marriage and a marriage that is, so to speak, tepid. Commenting on the results of the study, another relationship researcher (not involved in the study) explained that “being sometimes supportive and sometimes not supportive is not the same thing as being moderately supportive all the time. Part of the issue may be the unpredictability. When you know someone is not going to be supportive, you acclimatize to that. But if they are sometimes one way and sometimes the other way, it’s much harder.”

An ambivalent marriage can lead to ambivalence over the decision of whether or not to divorce: Were things really so bad? Am I focusing too much on the bad aspects? Could my spouse start being more consistently supportive?

Again, these are questions that only you can answer. But in light of the fact that an ambivalent marriage may not be doing anything for your health or your overall happiness, the results of this study are worth considering.

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