- New research adds to evidence that relationship quality affects health.
- Studies have found that wounds heal slower in couples who communicate negatively.
- Chronic negative communication patterns were also associated with greater inflammation.
- Experts suggest that it is best to discuss your differences in a positive, non-confrontational manner.
- Knowing the effects of nonverbal communication can also help.
A new study published this month in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology The report notes that the way couples communicate — for example, if both partners tend to be cold to each other or avoid talking about their problems — can lead to negative emotions and feelings of stress, which in turn can affect immune system function.
Dysfunctional communication patterns can also fuel persistent bad feelings about the relationship itself and contribute to chronic inflammation, according to the authors. In fact, study participants showed up in the lab with already elevated markers of inflammation in their blood.
This analysis re-examined the
The authors note that marriage is known to be protective on health, with married couples having lower rates of mortality and morbidity. However, this study shows that this is not automatically the case.
A stressful marriage can also have negative health effects.
The original study, co-authored by the study’s senior author, Dr. Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, included 42 married heterosexual couples who had been married for an average of 12 years.
Their blood was tested for inflammatory markers at the start of the study, and the researchers used a device to create a small blister on each person’s forearm. The healing of the blisters was used to monitor how well the immune system was working throughout the study.
Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire assessing their typical communication patterns.
The couples were then asked to have two separate discussions about the film: one related to social support and another attempt to address a known issue in the marriage.
The researchers coded any negative or positive behavior in these discussions. Couples were also asked to rate the conversations themselves.
According to Matthew D. Johnson, Ph.D., director of clinical training and professor of psychology at Binghamton University, who was not involved in the two studies, the purpose of the new study was to examine the level of couples’ “demanding/withdrawing communication patterns.” “
“Often, this is a pattern where one partner wants to discuss an issue or event in the marriage and the other withdraws from the discussion (for example, by expressing disinterest, annoyance, or physically leaving the space),” Johnson says. “A partner’s Withdrawing could cause the ‘demanding’ partner to become increasingly restless or persistent, increasing the intensity of discussions on the issue.”
According to Johnson, at the start of the study, couples who had either of these modes of communication experienced greater inflammation, slower wound healing, higher negative emotions, lower positive emotions, and worse discussion evaluation.
“More interestingly,” he commented, “negative communication patterns predictSlower wound healing, lower positive emotions, and more negative discussions and evaluations. ”
According to Johnson, this “has important implications for the direction of causality.”
In other words, it could suggest that marital communication patterns can lead to health problems.
Johnson further noted that this study contributes to a growing body of work, including his own, showing an association between relationship quality and health.
“Communication is the key to success,” said Dr. Hannah M. Garza, clinical director of TCHATT at Texas Tech University El Paso Health Sciences Center. “Married couples who communicate openly and are able to discuss their differences in a positive, non-confrontational manner tend to have longer-lasting relationships than those who argue and fight a lot.”
Communication isn’t just about words, Garza added. It can include things like making coffee for your partner, helping with chores, and going grocery shopping together. Even something as small as texting your husband or wife during the day to say you miss them can “help a lot,” says Garza.
“By helping, you let your significant other know that you care and that you’re there to pick up the pieces when it needs to be done, or just to be proud of them when they achieve something big in their life,” she explains road.
“Going the extra mile for your spouse and making them feel special actually makes a difference in both your emotional state and theirs when you see the smile on their face,” she adds.