Your Health: Arguing with Your Spouse Could be Hazardous to Your Health Rallie McAllister, M.D., M.P.H.
Here's one more reason to strive for marital bliss: Arguing with your spouse could be hazardous to your health. Researchers at the University College London recently announced their findings that individuals who experienced high levels of negativity in their close personal relationships -- especially marriage -- were 1.34 times more likely to experience chest pain, heart attacks and even sudden cardiac death. The study, which involved more than 9,000 British civil servants, appeared in the October 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. Noting that negative marital interactions are often associated with depression and anger, the researchers concluded that these emotional reactions contribute to cardiovascular disease by exerting a cumulative "wear and tear" effect on various organs, including the heart. Even in the absence of marital discord, individuals who harbor negative emotions, including hostility and anger, could be putting their health in danger. A recent study conducted by researchers at Duke University
Medical Center found that men who frequently experience intense feelings of hostility, anger and depression are at greater risk for developing high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes. Previous research suggests that individuals with hostile personalities and those who are highly anger-prone are nearly three times more likely to suffer heart attacks than their more mellow counterparts. The link between anger and heart disease appears to hold true even after adjusting for other major cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and obesity. Doctors and scientists have long suspected that people with short fuses have shorter life expectancies, but the reasons for this association are not entirely clear. It could be that angry individuals are more likely to engage in hazardous behaviors, including smoking cigarettes and drinking excessive quantities of alcohol, which in turn contribute to heart disease. Or it could be that hotheaded individuals tend to have higher levels of stress hormones, which can constrict the arteries around the heart and elevate blood pressure. Stress hormones also appear to interfere with the proper function of immune system, leaving individuals with hostile, angry personalities more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Anger and hostility aren't the only emotions that can affect heart health. In the February 2007 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers at Indiana University announced their findings that depression may lead to the initiation or progression of atherosclerosis. Also known as hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis is a major contributor to heart disease. In a study of over 300 men and women, the scientists analyzed individuals' depressive symptoms and measured changes in the thickness of their arterial walls. At the end of a three-year period, the researchers noted that the men and women with the most severe depressive symptoms demonstrated the greatest increases in thickness of their blood vessel walls, a finding consistent with the development or progression of hardening of the arteries.
Based on these observations, the researchers concluded that depression might play an important role in the early stages of coronary artery disease. According to researchers at Duke University Medical Center, frequent bouts of depression, anxiety, hostility or anger can significantly increase the risk for developing cardiovascular disease, but having a combination of these traits is a far more powerful predictor of future heart problems. A similar pattern is known to exist with physiological cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol level, and obesity. While having any one of these conditions increases the likelihood of developing heart disease, having all three conditions is especially dangerous.
Although negative emotions can be damaging to your health and your close relationships, positive emotions can have the opposite effect. The simple act of laughing can alleviate stress, lower blood pressure and boost the disease-fighting properties of the immune system. Scientists at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that people with healthy hearts tended to use laughter as a means of alleviating emotional stress. Folks with ailing hearts, on the other hand, were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a number of humorous situations. Even if you can't manage to laugh about the situation, it might be a good idea to talk about it, especially if you're a woman.
One study found that women who regularly suppressed their anger had higher death rates than those who aired their feelings. Whether you're trying to improve the health of your heart or the health of your marriage, spending time laughing and talking with your spouse is a great place to start.