Couples' conflict style predicts future health problems
25 May 2016
How couples behave during conflicts can have a direct bearing on their long-term health, a new study suggests.
Tending towards outbursts of anger predicts cardiovascular problems later in life while shutting down emotionally or “stonewalling” during conflict raises the risk of musculoskeletal ailments such as a bad back or stiff neck.
“Our findings reveal a new level of precision in how emotions are linked to health, and how our behaviours over time can predict the development of negative health outcomes,” says senior author, Dr Robert Levenson from the University of California.
The study of 156 couples based on 20 years of data, shows that overall, the link between emotions and health outcomes was most pronounced for husbands, but some of the key correlations were also found in wives.
“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,” say the authors.
They suggest the findings could spur hotheaded people to consider such interventions as anger management, while people who withdraw during conflict might benefit from resisting the impulse to bottle up their emotions.
“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 also looked at sadness and fear as predictors of adverse health outcomes, but did not find any significant associations.
“Our findings suggest particular emotions expressed in a relationship predict vulnerability to particular health problems, and those emotions are anger and stonewalling,” says Dr Levenson .