Choosing the right spouse to live out the rest of your days with isn’t just important for a divorce-proof marriage; it could help protect you from heart disease as well.

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have presented compelling evidence to suggest that the quality and patterns of one’s social relationships are linked with a number of health outcomes, such as heart disease. According to Thomas Karmarck, an author of the study, these outcomes are not only based on how we view our relationship but also on the “quality of specific social interactions with our partners,” in our everyday life. The physical link between marriage and healthy hearts can be seen in the earliest stages of plaque development, Karmarck explained in a recent press release.

For the study, 281 healthy, employed, middle-aged married adults had the amount of time they spent together measured for four days. The couples rated their interactions as positive or negative, and the thickness of their carotid arteries were also measured using an ultrasound. Results showed that couples with negative interactions had thicker carotids than those who reported positive interactions. These findings rose above any age, sex, race, or education level. Natria Joseph, lead author of the paper, assessed that those with negative interactions had an 8.5 percent greater risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke than those with better relationships.

While these findings are useful incentives for young couple on the cusp of marriage to be certain they have made the right choice, their implications go even further. "It’s another bit of support for the thought that marital or serious romantic relationships play a significant role in overall health. Biological, psychological, and social processes all interact to determine physical health,” Joseph explained in the press release.

More studies need to be conducted before these findings are passed off as definite facts, however, at the moment, it does suggest “that health care providers should look at relationships as a point of assessment,” Joseph said. This is because, in her opinion, relationships have the power to either help one’s health or worsen it.

Happy marriages have been associated with overall better health than people who are single, or even unmarried couples that live together. Many factors are believed to contribute to this phenomenon, including a tendency for married couples to have better access to health care, a higher likeliness to follow through on health screenings, and a higher likeliness of not smoking, drinking, or engaging in risky behavior. The psyche of married couples tends to be healthier as well. Constant interaction with a spouse prevents isolation, an emotion that can lead to depression and stress.

Source: Joseph NT, Kamarch TW, Muldoon M, Manuck SB. Daily Marital Interaction Quality and Carotid Artery Intima-Medial Thickness in Healthy Middle-Aged Adults. Psychosomatic Medicine Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine. 2014.