In sickness and in health: relationship quality and cardiovascular risk and management

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Abstract

Purpose of review

To review the link between couple relationships and cardiovascular health, the plausible mechanisms by which relationship quality affects heart health, and to provide an overview of couple-based interventions aimed at improving cardiovascular health.

Recent findings

Marriage and the quality of the couple relationship bond are robust predictors of long-term health outcomes. Chronic relationship conflict and disconnection can be deadly. There are direct and indirect pathways by which couple relationship quality affect cardiovascular health. Direct pathways include effects of relationship quality on cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune functioning. Indirect pathways include effects of emotional, cognitive and behavioural factors that impact lifestyle choices and adherence to treatment regimens. Effects of couple-based interventions addressing traditional cardiovascular risk factors have been null to modest and there is only one couple-based intervention that addressed relationship quality and heart health. On the basis of the literature, this is major oversight. We propose attachment-based interventions, such as our Healing Hearts Together program, for patients with heart disease and their partners.

Summary

Previous research indicates that couple-based interventions are promising. Large randomized controlled trials that aim to improve relationship quality among patients with CVD and their partners, as well as study mechanistic, surrogate, and clinical outcomes, are required to appropriately assess their impact.

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