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8 Ways Relationship Stress Can Affect Health

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Mary Meysil Carreon · Updated Jun 30, 2020

8 Ways Relationship Stress Can Affect Health

Various studies have proven that healthy and loving relationships have a positive impact on the health of people. And research has also found how relationship stress can affect health negatively.

Those fortunate to be in one are generally happier and experience less stress, which positively impacts their physical and mental well-being, 

But in toxic relationships, there are negative consequences on both the mental and physical health of individuals..

Stress is the primary driver of all these negative impacts. Stress triggers the body to release biochemicals that allow it to operate at a heightened state.

Stress: All You Need to Know

However, humans are not meant to function that way regularly. So experiencing this over the long-term has a lasting negative impact on individuals. Those who experience chronic worry and conflict are at risk of experiencing the effects of relationship stress on health.

How Relationship Stress Can Affect Health

Weaker immune system

As mentioned, stress signals the body to operate at a level above normal. This is part of human evolution. This helped our early ancestors have the useful ability to overcome dangerous encounters.

However, being constantly at this level can be taxing on certain individuals. Among those affected is our ability to ward off disease.

The American Psychological Association noted a study from 1982 to 1992 of medical students that showed that simply undergoing a three-day exam led to elevated stress and were found to have less natural resistance to diseases. Further studies showed that prolonged exposure to stress severely compromises the immune system. 

Body pains

Aside from being more prone to diseases, chronic stress, whether from relationships or other sources, has also been shown to bring about headaches and body pains.

The American Institute of Stress (AIS) attributes this to the fact that the stress causes muscle to become tense to protect it from injury. The muscles of people who are constantly bombarded are thus more strained due to less opportunity to relax.

It added that this can also trigger a vicious cycle of being dependent on medication to manage the pain.

Sexual dysfunction or low libido

Dealing with relationship stress affects our sexual drive and may result in dysfunction.

Being stressed exhausts people physically and mentally.  When we are under stress, our body produces more cortisol. Chronic stress may affect the concentration of sex hormones. This results in loss of interest in sex and may result in a dysfunction. 

The AIS also notes that prolonged stress causes a drop in testosterone level in men that can cause erectile dysfunction and even impotence and heighten risk for infections of male reproductive organs. For women, stress may cause irregular, heavy or painful periods and make physical symptoms of menopause more unpleasant 

Aside from its physiological effects, it can also diminish libido, by affecting an individual psychologically. A loss of interest in sex can be the result of anxiety or stress.

Increased cardiovascular disorders

A study by a team of British epidemiologists found that people in relationships, where arguments and conflicts contribute to relational stress have a 34% greater risk of heart attacks and stress induced chest-pains.

People experiencing relationship stress, according to the study, tend to have an increased chance of acquiring cardiovascular issues such as heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, and hypertension.

Gastro-intestinal issues

When we are under stress, our nervous system activates the “fight-or-flight” response, which releases the stress hormone cortisol and this could lead to gastrointestinal effects. Stressed individuals are known to experience esophagus spasms and increased acidity, which may cause indigestion, nausea, abdominal pain, heartburn, and sometimes, even diarrhea and constipation

Trouble sleeping

Aside from the physical and psychological effects mentioned, stress can take a toll on our sleeping patterns as well. Relationship stress can lead to sleeping issues like insomnia.

Having trouble sleeping when we are experiencing relationship stress may lead to debilitating insomnia, which may result in lack of energy and drastic mood swings. 

Skin problems

Stress stimulates the release of cortisol, which affects the organs of the body and the skin is no exception. Those who already have pre-existing conditions such as acne, psoriasis, dermatitis and eczema may experience aggravated symptoms. Stress also hastens the aging of the skin, leading to a duller and rougher texture, as it interferes with the natural healing process.

Mental health 

Aside from being harmful to your physical well-being, chronic stress can wreak havoc on your mental health. This can lead to low self-esteem, insecurity, anxiety, and depression. Studies are continuing on this topic, research has shown that stress  may affect the brain structure and brain cells, thus leading to mental illness.

How to cope with relationship stress

It is important to determine if the stress in your relationship is just a temporary glitch or a permanent feature. If you’re just going through a rough patch, it is necessary to work with your partner to address the underlying issues causing the stress.

A tough, honest but calm and loving conversation is needed to hash out your differences and agree on compromises. If necessary, seek the help of trusted counselors or professionals to help address issues, and eventually mend your relationship.

However, if the relationship is already abusive-verbally, emotionally or emotionally- one must seriously consider if it’s still worth salvaging.

If no longer tenable, the suffering partner must take the necessary and immediate steps to exit the relationship for their well being and even, safety.

Learn more about mental health, here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Mary Meysil Carreon · Updated Jun 30, 2020

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