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Through Sickness and in Health

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It was revealed this week that a bad marriage can lead to negative physical health effects in couples. A research group of psychologists from the universities of Nevada and Michigan studied 373 heterosexual couples for the first sixteen years of marriage.

The study focused on how often, and what topics, couples disagreed on, such as children, money and leisure.

‘We compared the subjective health of wives and husbands who reported a greater number of conflict topics to those who reported fewer,’ said Rosie Shrout, who worked on the study.

This study has challenged past data supporting the claim that married people live longer than divorcees, widows or those that have never married. Despite this, the Michigan/Nevada group found that a poor marriage full of conflict is actually more damaging to spousal health long term. And that’s not to mention the implications on mental health.

Shrout explained that experiencing a great deal of conflict in a relationship is ‘as damaging to health as smoking and drinking.’ This is because relationship conflict can produce a variety of physiological responses, such as the release of stress hormones, changes in appetite regulation and immune functioning. Over time these changes in the body can have damaging impacts long term. On the other hand, couples who agreed on most things experienced some health benefits early on in the relationship. Sadly for men, that they were more affected by marital conflict than women. Aggressive features of conflict, such as hostility, defensiveness and arguing about the same topic over and over increased health risks. So, what can be taken away from this? In stressful periods of relationships, it is important to work on effective communication to limit unnecessary aggravation.