Happy wife, happy heart?

You see it in the papers all the time: Someone dies after a longtime marriage, and his or her spouse goes months or even days later.

"He died of a broken heart," they always say.

Well, friend, that may be true... but if you think the loss of a beloved spouse is bad for the heart, you should see what the constant, nagging presence of a less-than-supportive partner will do your ticker.

I've warned you before how bad marriages lead to bad health. Now, new research shows how a critical or demanding spouse can lead directly to heart disease.

And the older you get -- the longer you're trapped with an unpleasant partner -- the bigger an impact it'll have.

All that stress takes its toll inside your body. And over years -- over decades -- it can damage your immune response, boost inflammation and add up to more strain than your already-overworked heart can handle.

For women, that kicks off a vicious cycle. As your marriage gets worse, your health declines. And the decline in health leads to even more marital problems.

For men, the study finds it's a one-way street: As your marriage gets worse, your health declines... but it doesn't do any more damage to your relationship than what's already been done, according to the study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

I'm not going to sit here and pass judgment on anyone else's marriage. You know what kind of union you're in. If it's on solid ground, then congratulations. But if there's something ticking you off, don't keep it in.

You could get some marriage counseling, but why pay some judgmental talking head with some letters after his name to play referee? Hash it out with your spouse until you're on the same page.

It may not be a lot of fun -- but It's better than a real broken heart.

Divorcing you from heart disease,

William Campbell Douglass II, M.D.