Does high blood pressure come with the territory of being married?
I’ve never had a problem with high blood pressure, although on more than one occasion I’ve accused my four daughters, my wife and my dog of conspiring against me to raise my blood pressure, or cause me to suffer a debilitating case of what we Italians call “agita,” which as far as I can determine has no suitable English translation.
(I should say up front that you don’t have to be Italian to get agita, although Italians, for reasons I won’t get into, seem to be prone to the ailment.)
So I was amused and somewhat frightened recently when I saw a headline that proclaimed, “Stressed out wives may make men’s blood pressure rise.”
That trend didn’t look very promising for the future of marriage. I thought, “No wonder marriage and the healthcare system are falling apart.”
This seemed to be one of those ground-breaking scientific pieces of research that would ultimately lead to more divorces than we currently have. In addition, I fear it could work its way into U.S. judicial system and be enshrined in divorce case law, spiraling all the way to the Supreme Court in a precedent-setting lawsuit something like, “Husband insists wife not entitled to alimony since she gave him high blood pressure.”
And quite possibly there will be counter-suits like, “Stressed out wife demands increase in alimony after having to care for husband suffering high blood pressure that she gave him.” The possibilities, as they say, are endless.
The study, which was conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, concluded that older men with stressed out wives face the possibility of high blood pressure. It said nothing, though, about stressed out husbands giving their wives high blood pressure.
Now, I realize there are a lot of medical and marital implications here. Older men often face prostate problems, vision problems, high cholesterol, heart palpitations—the health issues are numerous—but are they reasons for breaking up? What if the older men are stressing out their wives?
Here, to my thinking, is what probably happened. A bunch of social researchers in white lab coats collared 1,350 couples and herded them into the laboratory and checked their blood pressure and then grilled them about their relationships and stress levels. (At least that’s what they would have done on reality TV or a segment of X-Men.)
They reexamined them in 2006 and 2010 and found that a third of the husbands had high blood pressure, along with 26 percent of the wives. Four years later, it was 37 percent of the men and 30 percent of the women, which leads me to believe this is approaching epidemic levels.
What they concluded is that negative relationships cause stress, which in turn, causes high blood pressure, especially for older couples because the wives serve as caregivers, take care of the household and make the meals, while the husbands are engaged in questionable activities such as surfing the Web, smoking cigars, watching pro football, playing bocce ball and going to the beach with binoculars to check out women in bikinis.
In my father’s case, he spent retirement in his workshop, making bird houses, which he gave to strangers in a crusade to prevent homelessness in the bird population. Even though my mother prepared the meals and took care of the household, she was the one with the high blood pressure, which leads me to believe that husbands probably share a lot of the blame.
This sounds like a common pattern. But how do you prevent it? How do you ensure happy, carefree years of marriage with normal blood pressure, good cholesterol levels and enough money for retirement, not to mention affordable cable TV service?
Here’s my view. Take it a day at a time. Share the responsibilities. Don’t bicker, and if you bicker, use a timer and stop the wrangling within three minutes before either person can get high blood pressure. And always remember… the best years are ahead of you, and there may be many of them, so keep your blood pressure under control.
By Joe Pisani