... but so is bottling it up, study finds
t’s official, your other half could well be affecting your health. Many people will have long suspected that arguing with her indoors is not a good idea. And not just because you will lose. Research suggests that behaviour in an argument has a link to health later in life. A team from the UC Berkeley and Northwestern University has conducted research over a 20-year period, and the results show how arguments between married couples could relate to specific health outcomes.
According to the study, cardiovascular problems are in store for individuals who tended to respond in an argument with outbursts of anger.
Conversely, those who shut down or stonewall during a row are at risk of musculoskeletal ailments, such as stiff muscles and bad backs.
Study lead author Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, said: “We looked at marital-conflict conversations that lasted just 15 minutes and could predict the development of health problems over 20 years for husbands based on the emotional behaviours that they showed during these 15 minutes.”
She added: “Conflict happens in every marriage, but people deal with it in different ways. Some of us explode with anger, some of us shut down.
“Our study shows that these different emotional behaviours can predict the development of different health problems in the long run.”
The study tracked the lives of 156 couples since 1989, with researchers filming the couples, who are now in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, every five years when they discussed their lives and areas of disagreement and enjoyment. To track displays of anger, the researchers monitored the videotaped conversations for behaviours such as lips pressed together, knitted brows, voices raised or lowered beyond their normal tone and tight jaws. Overall, the link between emotions and health outcomes was most pronounced for husbands, although the correlation also affected some of the wives.
The findings could spur hotheaded people to consider anger management and different techniques, while people who withdraw during conflict might benefit from resisting the impulse to bottle up their emotions. Psychologist Robert Levenson, a senior author of the study, said: “For years, we’ve known negative emotions are associated with negative health outcomes, but this study dug deeper to find that specific emotions are linked to specific health problems.
“This is one of the many ways that our emotions provide a window for glimpsing important qualities of our future lives.”