How people react to marital disagreements has a strong relationship with their health.
Dealing with relationship conflict by getting angry predicts blood pressure problems, new research finds.
Stonewalling — that is, shutting down emotionally — is linked to stiff muscles and a bad back.
Professor Robert Levenson, one of the study’s authors, said:
“Our findings reveal a new level of precision in how emotions are linked to health, and how our behaviors over time can predict the development of negative health outcomes.”
Dr Claudia Haase, the study’s first author, 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 behaviors that they showed during these 15 minutes.”
The results — which come from 20 years of data — might encourage some people to consider anger management, the researchers think.
Dr Claudia Haase said:
“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 behaviors can predict the development of different health problems in the long run.”
The study has followed 156 middle-aged couples since 1989.
The couples, who are all from San Francisco, are heterosexual and have been together for many years.
Every year they undergo a battery of tests, including being videotaped interacting in the lab.
They found that displays of anger and stonewalling were linked to high blood pressure and back problems respectively.
Professor Levenson said:
“For years, we’ve known that 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.”
The study was published in the journal Emotion (Haase et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Breakup image from Shutterstock