Spouses who quarrel live longer- Study

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Nnaemeka Meribe

Quarrelling with your spouse may be the key to your longevity, researchers say. The conclusion seems irrational but that is what findings from a study of married couples suggest.

According to researchers from the University of Michigan, United States, couples who bottle up their anger die earlier than expressive couples.

In other words, fighting is a good way of releasing the pent-up frustrations induced by marriage.

“When couples get together, one of their main jobs is reconciliation of conflict,” online science news portal, www.livescience.com quotes researcher, Ernest Harburg, a professor emeritus with the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Psychology Department, as saying.

Thus, while conflict is inevitable, the critical matter is how couples resolve it. “The key matter is, when the conflict happens, how do you resolve it?” Harburg says. “When you don’t, if you bury your anger, and you brood on it and you resent the other person or the attacker, and you don’t try to resolve the problem, then you’re in trouble.”

The findings are consistent with past studies which suggest that arguments and the release of anger can be healthy. For example, one study reveals that when people are angry they tend to make better decisions, perhaps because this emotion triggers the brain to ignore irrelevant cues and focus on the meat of the matter. Another study suggests that a little arguing now and then is good for you, if done for the right reasons.

A marriage therapist, Mrs. Mopelola Ogunlusi, agrees that quarrels are inevitable in marriage, insisting that spouses who bottle up their anger are likely to divorce early or even die early.

Ditto for a psychiatrist, Dr. Adeoye Oyewole. He says the absence of quarrel in marriage can lead to mental illness and anxiety disorders.

Harburg and his colleagues suggest a combination of factors to explain the higher mortality for couples who don’t express their anger. These include “mutual anger suppression, poor communication (of feelings and issues) and poor problem-solving with medical consequences.”

Over a 17-year period, Harburg and his colleagues studied 192 married couples aged between 35 and 69, focusing on aggressive behaviour considered unfair or undeserved by the person being ‘attacked.’ Harburg said that if an attack is viewed as fair, the victim doesn’t tend to get angry.

Based on the participants’ anger-coping responses to hypothetical situations, Harburg placed couples in one of four categories: both partners express their anger; the wife expresses anger; the husband communicates anger while the other suppresses; and both the husband and wife brood and suppress their anger.

The study which appears in the Journal of Family Communication finds that 26 couples, meaning 52 individuals, were suppressors in which both partners held in their anger. Twenty-five per cent of the suppressors died during the study period compared with about 12 per cent for the other remaining couples.

The results held even when other health factors were accounted for, including age, smoking, weight, blood pressure, bronchial problems, breathing and cardiovascular risk.

Harburg says the results are preliminary, and his team is collecting 30-year follow-up data. He expects the follow-up to show almost double the death rate compared with the preliminary findings.

Anger, according to a 2005 research based on face reading published in the journal, Biological Psychiatry, is good for you, as long as you keep it below a boil.

People who respond to stressful situations with short-term anger or indignation have a sense of control and optimism that lacks in those who respond with fear.

“These are the most exciting data I’ve ever collected,” livescience.com quotes Carnegie Mellon psychologist, Jennifer Lerner, as saying.

Lerner harassed 92 University of California, Los Angeles students by having experimenters ask subjects to count backward on camera by 13s starting with an odd number like 6,233, telling them it was an intelligence test and then telling them they weren’t counting fast enough and to speed it up as they went along.

Wrong answers meant subjects had to start all over again. Another test involved counting backwards by sevens from 9,095.

The video cameras caught subjects’ facial expressions during the tests, ranging from deer-in-the-headlights to seriously upset. The researchers identified fear, anger and disgust using a psychologist’s coding system that considers the flexing of particular sets of small muscles in the face.

The researchers also recorded people’s blood pressure, pulse and secretion of the high-stress hormone, cortisol, which can be measured in the saliva and collected with a cotton swab.

The people whose faces showed more fear during the exercise had higher blood pressure and higher levels of the hormone. The findings were the same for men and women.

Lerner previously studied Americans’ emotional response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks two months afterward and found that anger triggers feelings of certainty and control. People who reacted with anger were more optimistic about risk and more likely to favour an aggressive response to terrorism.

So, in maddening situations in which anger or indignation are justified, anger is not a bad idea, the thinking goes. In fact, Lerner says that it is adaptive and is a healthier response than fear.

However, chronic, explosive anger or a hostile outlook on the world is still bad for you, as research has shown that it contributes to heart disease and high blood pressure.

Also, a little arguing now and then is good for you, if done for the right reasons, according to a study presented in August last year at the 11th annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

The study shows that when people experience tension with someone else, whether their boss, spouse, or child, sidestepping confrontation could be bad for their health. Avoiding conflict was associated with more symptoms of physical problems the next day than was actually engaging in arguments. Bypassing bickering was also associated with abnormal rises and falls of cortisol throughout the day.

“Relationships have important influences on how we feel on a daily basis, especially the problems in our relationships,” says study researcher, Kira Birditt, of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. “How we deal with problems affects our daily well-being.”

Ogunlusi, who is the managing director of a Lagos-based matchmaking agency, Romeo and Juliet, says that couples who fight and resolve their differences themselves tend to last in their marriage and also live longer.

She says, “It is better for couples to quarrel and settle their differences by themselves. They can even exchange blows. As long as they can resolve their differences, there is nothing bad about it. What is bad is for them to quarrel without settling their differences.

In fact, a home where couples do not fight and resolve their differences is usually dull and unhappy. “The spouses will be unhappy and it is easy for them to seek divorce or die of heartbreak,” she says.

For Oyewole who is a consultant psychiatrist at the Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, spouses who fight tend to be b healthier mentally and physically.

He says, “I think the researchers do not really mean physical fight but arguments, hot arguments. You see, marriages that allow all parties to express their opinions tend to last longer.

“But when spouses bottle up their feelings it may lead to mental disorders and eventually death. Sometimes you hear people say that they have not quarrelled with their spouses for over 20 years but in reality what has happened in such marriages is that one party has been suppressing his or her anger for over 20 years and this is not healthy.”


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