How Marriage May Affect Your Chances of a Stroke

Marriage is one of the most meaningful decisions in an adult person's life because it substantially interlaces with almost every aspect of life. Marriage can be a source of love, happiness, and security. Marriage can also induce stress, anxiety, or heartache and many marriages are so tumultuous that they ultimately break apart.

It has been shown that the well-being and stability of a marriage can have a notable impact on a person’s health. And scientific studies are finding that marriage plays a consequential role on the risk of stroke, which is among the most life-altering medical events a person can experience.

In fact, a 2016 study published in Journal of the American Heart Association reported that being married was associated with better survival after a stroke. These results are consistent with several other scientific findings that link a healthy marriage with stroke survival and even with a decreased risk of having a stroke. Surprisingly, the impact of marriage on stroke risk lasts for several generations. Another interesting tidbit is that marriage appears to affect men and women differently when it comes to stroke risk.

Marriage Does Impact Stroke Risk

Older couple holding hands

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Interestingly, marital stability affects not only the couple's stroke risk but also the stroke risk of their adult children years down the road. And not only does the state of a couple's marriage affect the risk of stroke, but a stroke can also affect the state of a couple's marriage.

A severe stroke can cause such a transformation in a stroke survivor's personality that it can affect the quality and contentment of marriage for the spouse, who is typically the primary caregiver. Depression is the most common personality change after a stroke. Other stroke-induced changes in personality include loss of empathy, loss of sense of humor, and even newly developed feelings of jealousy.

Stroke Risk After Divorce

Divorced couple sits on couch

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A study published in Denmark found that there's a higher likelihood of stroke occurring in those whose marriage has ended in divorce rather than in those who are unmarried, married, or widowed. The increase in stroke rates after divorce affected both men and women, but it was noted to be more significant for men than for women.

There are a number of possible explanations for the upsurge in stroke risk when a marriage ends in divorce, including stress, anxiety, sadness, and a decline in self-care. Additionally, changes in lifestyle after marriage may differ for men and women, and this could explain the different rates of stroke between men and women subsequent to the termination of a marriage.

Interestingly, men who had been divorced and men who had never been married both demonstrated an increased rate of stroke compared to married and widowed men of the same age, which suggests that it is both the ending of a marriage in divorce as well as the lack of marriage that most prominently contributes to stroke risk.

Stroke Risk in an Unhappy Marriage

Unhappy couple

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While divorce affects stroke incidence differently for men than it does women, an unhappy marriage also affects men and women in different ways. Research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior reported that an unhappy marriage, defined as negative marital quality, resulted in a higher rate of development of stroke risk factors for women, but not for men.

There are many potential explanations for this finding, including differences in the ways that men and women respond to surveys or differences in the way they view marital satisfaction.

Stroke Risk in Children of Divorce

Son looking at parents

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Surprisingly, divorce has been found to have a long-term impact on stroke risk for more than just the couple. A study published in the International Journal of Stroke concluded that parental divorce during childhood increases the risk of stroke for men in adulthood by threefold.

Interestingly, there was no association of parental divorce during childhood on stroke risk for adult women. Given that divorcing parents do not typically take the decision to separate lightly, negative descriptions of children’s long-term outcomes may lead to increased feelings of guilt and blame. However, it is important to note that the study does not point to an exact cause or physiology behind the increase in stroke rates among the adult males who experienced childhood parental divorce.

Stroke and Its Effect on Marriage

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For those couples who stay together, they go through the experience of one spouse's stroke together.

Being married has been shown to improve stroke survival for those who do have a stroke. This finding was true for men and women, and it turned out that those who were married had a higher chance of survival than those who had never been married and those who had been divorced.

This could be explained by the fact that a stroke survivor who has a spouse also has a number of practical advantages. Getting to the hospital promptly has been shown to increase survival after a stroke because life-saving treatment can be administered. This often depends on whether there is a companion available to call for emergency help when stroke symptoms begin.

Also, post-stroke recovery at home may involve a number of prescriptions, medical visits, and therapy appointments, all of which can go more smoothly if there is an involved spouse who can remind the stroke survivor to take prescribed medication and to follow through with medical appointments.

In addition to the practical advantages, there may also be some subtle advantages to having a spouse, such as emotional support. Some studies show that a peaceful emotional and spiritual life can help in stroke recovery.

A stroke can produce a number of neurological changes, including alterations in the stroke survivor's ability to understand other people’s feelings and facial expressions. The lack of appropriate social and emotional responses by the stroke survivor can be very difficult for the survivor's spouse and may decrease marital satisfaction for the healthier spouse, who is usually the primary caregiver, after a stroke.

A Word From Verywell

Marriage plays a huge role in one's life. It is not a big surprise then, that the quality of a marriage can impact stroke, which is a disease caused by the interaction of a number of complex social, emotional, and health factors. It is especially fascinating that marital well-being and divorce affect men and women so differently—and even affect their sons differently than it affects their daughters.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dupre ME, Lopes RD. Marital history and survival after stroke. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2016 Dec 14;5(12):e004647. doi:10.1161/JAHA.116.004647

  2. Fuller-Thomson E, Dalton AD. Gender differences in the association between parental divorce during childhood and stroke in adulthood: Findings from a population-based surveyInt J Stroke. 2015;10(6):868-875. doi:10.1111/j.1747-4949.2012.00935.x

  3. Blonder LX, Pettigrew LC, Kryscio RJ. Emotion recognition and marital satisfaction in strokeJ Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2012;34(6):634-642. doi:10.1080/13803395.2012.667069

  4. Andersen KK, Olsen TS. Married, unmarried, divorced, and widowed and the risk of strokeActa Neurol Scand. 2018;138(1):41-46. doi:10.1111/ane.12914

  5. Liu H, Waite L. Bad marriage, broken heart? Age and gender differences in the link between marital quality and cardiovascular risks among older adultsJ Health Soc Behav. 2014;55(4):403-423. doi:10.1177/0022146514556893

  6. Dupre ME, Lopes RD. Marital history and survival after stroke. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2016 Dec 14;5(12):e004647. doi:10.1161/JAHA.116.004647

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.