Those who rage with frustration in a marital relationship have an increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as chest pain or high blood pressure later in life, according to new research from Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Conversely, shutting down emotionally or “stonewalling” during conflict raises the risk of musculoskeletal ailments such as a bad back or stiff muscles.
Link stronger for husbands
The study, published in the journal Emotion, is based on 20 years of data. It controlled for such factors as age, education, exercise, smoking, alcohol use and caffeine consumption.
Overall, the link between emotions and health outcomes was most pronounced for husbands, but some of the key correlations were also found in wives. It did not take the researchers long to guess which spouses would develop ailments down the road based on how they reacted to disagreements.
“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,” said study lead author Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University.
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, the researchers 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,” Haase said. “Our study shows that these different emotional behaviors can predict the development of different health problems in the long run.”
Overall, the link between emotions and health outcomes was most pronounced for husbands, but some of the key correlations also were found in wives. The researchers analyzed married couples in the throes of tense conversations for just 15 minutes, but that was long enough to predict the development of health problems over 20 years later.
The findings could spur hotheads to consider such interventions as anger management, while people who withdraw during conflict might benefit from resisting the impulse to bottle up their emotions, the researchers 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,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson, senior author of the study.