Conflict Resolution

These Toxic Fighting Habits Might Hurt Your Marriage — And Your Body

A new study found that couples who fight more negatively feel the toll physically.

Unhappy Couple After an Argument in the Living Room at Home. Sad Pensive Young Girl Thinking of Rela...
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Arguments with a spouse or partner are never fun, but new evidence suggests that negative communication in relationships can have unexpected physical ramifications beyond the damage they might do to your marriage.

A recent study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology analyzed data collected for a 2005 study that proved that, due to stress, wounds heal more slowly after an argument. For the original study, 42 straight, married couples were invited to participate in two discussions under observation in a lab. The first discussion revolved around social support, while the second was an attempt to solve a known problem within the marriage — in-laws and finances were common topics.

Before the discussions, baseline bloodwork was performed to measure circulating inflammatory proteins and other metrics, and small blisters were raised on the skin to measure wound healing. In follow-up visits, the couples were asked to describe the discussions and determine whether they felt supported, satisfied, and understood, and wound healing was measured. Interestingly, participants who rated the conversations poorly experienced slower wound healing.

In the new study, a team from Ohio State University examined the findings from the original 2005 research and found that negative communication patterns — specifically mutual avoidance and demand/withdrawal (in which one partner makes demands and the other withdraws or seeks to end a conversation) — affected how they felt both physically and emotionally, and negatively impacted their bodies’ ability to heal.

"Marriage is associated with better health, but chronically distressed marriages can worsen health," said lead author Rosie Shrout, who worked on the study as a postdoctoral researcher. "It's important to understand what is going on behind the scenes that contributes to these effects.

“If they were more negative typically on a day-to-day basis and were negative in those specific interactions, they rated the discussion more negatively and less positively, they felt fewer positive emotions, and their wounds healed more slowly,” Shrout explained. “That chronic negativity and acute negativity had emotional, relational, and immune effects – most notably for women.”

Couples who reported more constructive communication had fewer adverse effects and showed fewer signs of physical and emotional harm. If there’s ever a great reason to brush up on the fundamentals of good communication, now you have it.