- MSNBC STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS - Couples plagued by routine marital strife
are undoubtedly in an unhealthy situation. And now a study has documented
just how detrimental that squabbling can be. Researchers at the University
of Utah found that people whose spouses are particularly dominant or controlling
experience blood pressure hikes that may raise their risk of heart disease.
- Research has shown that couples who have
been taught fair-fighting skills have smaller increases in blood pressure
when they argue.
- In the study, published in the current
issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers hooked 45 young
couples up to blood-pressure monitors and asked them to argue opposing
positions on a given topic - how to carry out large teaching staff cuts
at a hypothetical local school. Participants also completed questionnaires
about their marital relationship.
- Results showed that arguing with a partner
who was perceived as dominant was associated with larger increases in blood
pressure than arguing with a spouse considered to be more submissive, reported
lead author Timothy W. Smith, chairman of the psychology department at
the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
- Smith said people whose partners are
particularly controlling are at greatest risk. "They are certainly
experiencing the greatest cardiovascular stress," he said.
- Husbands or wives who perceived their
spouses as submissive tended to have the smallest increase in blood pressure
during arguments, according to the report. What can be done to improve
- Smith suggests that combative couples
get help to learn how to argue more fairly. Research has shown that couples
who have been taught fair-fighting skills have smaller increases in blood
pressure when they argue, he said.
- "For example, they learn not to
demean or belittle the other person,s opinions and not to attack their
character," Smith explained. "They also learn not to attribute
malicious intent to their opponent. They are taught to clearly and effectively
express their own feelings about something and to make sure to express
an understanding of the other person's point of view before moving on to
explaining their own."
- An expert in marital relations said the
study results aren't surprising.
- Researchers have been looking into the
role of emotions as an influence on hypertension since the 1950s, said
Dr. Dave M. Davis, director of the Piedmont Psychiatric Clinic in Atlanta.
"It's pretty well accepted that anger has something to do with hypertension,"
- On the other hand, being nice also has
health effects, Davis said. For example, one researcher asked a group of
men to take the time to kiss their wives good-bye in the morning and as
a greeting in the evening.
- The result? Their blood pressure dropped,
- The Medical Tribune News Service contributed
to this report.