Marital distress prospectively predicts poorer cellular immune function

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Nov;38(11):2713-9. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.06.031. Epub 2013 Jul 20.


Objective: Distressed marriages enhance risk for a variety of health problems. Immune dysregulation is one potential mechanism; cross-sectional studies have demonstrated that marital distress is linked to maladaptive immune alterations. The current study filled an important gap in the literature by examining the ability of marital distress to prospectively predict immune alterations over a two-year period.

Method: Participants were 90 couples (N=180 individuals; Mage=25.67) married less than a year at the time of their first study visit. Both members of a couple completed a baseline assessment of marital quality and provided blood samples at baseline and two years later. 63 couples (N=123 individuals) completed the follow-up assessment.

Results: Spouses in more distressed marriages had larger declines in cellular immune function over time than spouses in less distressed marriages. Furthermore, the results were highly consistent across two different indices, proliferative responses to two mitogens, concanavalin A (Con A) and phytohemagglutinin (PHA).

Conclusions: Marital distress has a variety of negative health consequences. The current study provided important evidence that marital distress has longer-term immune consequences. Accordingly, the present results provide a glimpse into the pathways through which marital distress may impact health over time.

Keywords: Cellular immunity; Longitudinal; Marital distress; Marriage; Psychoneuroimmunology; Romantic relationships.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies / blood
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Concanavalin A / pharmacology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Conflict*
  • Female
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation / drug effects
  • Immunomodulation / immunology*
  • Male
  • Phytohemagglutinins / pharmacology
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology


  • Antibodies
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Concanavalin A