Between combining finances, raising children, and the increased household chores, being married can certainly be a source of stress. But, it turns out, having a spouse can also reduce anxiety as well. A new study published in the journal PLOS One has provided evidence that having a spouse by your side can be a real stress reliever in a moment of crisis.
For the study, Wendy Birmingham, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, and her colleagues asked 40 married couples to complete a challenging task on a computer while an infrared camera continuously measured the size of their pupils. When we are stressed or scared, our pupils dilate, so the camera provided a biological sign of how participants were responding to the pressure of the assignment. Some of the couples had to do the task separately, whereas others completed it while their spouse was by their side.
While all of the participants showed signs of stress when initially taking on the task, the ones who had their spouses sitting next to them throughout the ordeal calmed down significantly sooner than those who had to do it alone. They were able to complete the assignment at lower stress levels overall than their counterparts who were flying solo.
“When we have a spouse next to us and with us, it really helps us navigate and get through the stress we have to deal with in life,” Birmingham said.
Interestingly enough, a 2018 study found that when romantic partners hold hands, their breathing, heart rate, and even brain wave patterns actually sync up, which enables them to relieve both emotional and physical pain. But this new BYU study is unique in that it used a more biological means of measuring stress, as opposed to relying on surveys.
“The neat thing is that the pupils respond within 200 milliseconds to the onset of a stressor,” said Steven Luke, a psychology professor at BYU and co-author of the study. “It can immediately measure how someone responds to stress and whether having social support can change that. It’s not just a different technique, it’s a different time scale.”
The study also builds upon previous research that being married can help lower your blood pressure, body mass index, and cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of heart disease and dementia, and even boost your overall longevity. For more on this, find out why Science Says a Happy Spouse Means a Longer Life.
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