Momentary Work Worries, Marital Disclosure, and Salivary Cortisol Among Parents of Young Children

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Objective: To investigate whether worries about work are linked to people's own cortisol levels and their spouses' cortisol levels in everyday life and whether marital factors may moderate these links. Although research has shown that satisfying marriages can buffer the physiological effects of everyday stress, the specific mechanisms through which marriage influences the processing and transmission of stress have not yet been identified.

Methods: Thirty-seven healthy married couples completed baseline measures and then provided saliva samples and indicated their worries about work for six times a day from a Saturday morning through a Monday evening.

Results: Wives' cortisol levels were associated positively with their own work worries (p = .008) and with their husbands' work worries (p = .006). Husbands' cortisol levels were associated positively only with their own work worries (p = .015). Wives low in both marital satisfaction and disclosure showed a stronger association between work worries and cortisol compared with wives reporting either high marital satisfaction and/or high marital disclosure.

Conclusions: These results suggest that momentary feelings of stress affect not only one's own cortisol levels but affect close others' cortisol levels as well. Furthermore, they suggest that, for women, the stress-buffering effects of a happy marriage may be partially explained by the extent to which they disclose their thoughts and feelings with their spouses.