Monday, November 12, 2007

Argue Healthy to Reduce Stress and Heart Disease

With the holiday season fast approaching, most people who already have too-much-to-do find themselves with a lot more too-much-to-do. It's awfully easy to get tired, cranky, irritable, but you feel you have to hold it all in for the sake of the peace, or the family, or the neighborhood, or even the world!

However, if you are a woman, bottling-up your anger or keeping quiet to keep the peace is just about the worse thing you can do for your health. Consider this study on the risk of heart disease in women who shut-up and shut-in their feelings:


(Begin quote from NCBI and Pub Med)

Marital status, marital strain, and risk of coronary heart disease or total mortality: the Framingham Offspring Study.

Eaker ED, Sullivan LM, Kelly-Hayes M, D'Agostino RB Sr, Benjamin EJ.

Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises, LLC, Gaithersburg, MD 20882, USA.

OBJECTIVE: To determine if marriage and marital strain are related to the 10-year coronary heart disease (CHD) incidence or total mortality. Research has demonstrated associations between marital strain and prognosis of heart disease, but little research has addressed the association between specific aspects of marital strain and incident CHD.

METHODS: From 1984 to 1987, 3682 participants (mean age 48.5 +/- 10.1 (standard deviation) years; 52% women) of the Framingham Offspring Study were examined; measures of marital status, marital strain, and risk factors for CHD were collected at the baseline examination. The present study describes the 10-year follow-up for incident CHD and total mortality.

RESULTS: After adjusting for age, systolic blood pressure, body mass index, cigarette smoking, diabetes, and total cholesterol/high density cholesterol, the married men compared with unmarried men were almost half as likely to die during follow-up (hazard ratio (HR) = 0.54; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.34-0.83). Women who "self-silenced" during conflict with their spouse, compared with women who did not, had four times the risk of dying (HR = 4.01; 95% CI: 1.75-9.20). Men with wives who were upset by work were 2.7 times more likely to develop CHD (HR = 2.71; 95% CI: 1.22-6.03). Marital happiness, satisfaction, and disagreements were not related to the development of CHD or death in men or women. [Bold emphasis added by Michelle]

CONCLUSIONS: Our study suggests that marital communication, conflict, and strain are associated with adverse health outcomes. Further research into the influence of marital stress on health is merited.
PMID: 17634565 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
(End quote)

What to do about it? Well, here is an article by Dr. Laura Berman outlining ways you can speak up for yourself, get your point across, and keep both your heart and your relationship healthy.


How to Argue...and Actually Improve Your Health

By Dr. Laura Berman Posted Fri, Oct 12, 2007

Is being nice bad for your health?

A recent study in the July report of Psychosomatic Medicine found that married women who bottled up their feelings after an argument were four times as likely to experience declining health as women who expressed their feelings openly.

This reluctance to express emotions and communicate openly is referred to as "self-silencing," and it has a devastating effect on our physical and emotional health. In fact, self-silencing has been linked to depression, eating disorders, and heart disease.

Despite these negative side effects, many couples still refrain from communicating honestly with their partner -- particularly if the needed communication is anything less than pleasant. Couples may fear expressing anger or sadness to their loved ones, as it may come across as criticism or judgment. However, without this crucial candor, relationships suffer and emotions fester.

So how can you communicate with your partner in a way that is kind but effective?

  • Be Authentic. When couples argue, they tend to get caught up in the "who, what, when, and why" of the argument, rather than truly expressing what the argument really makes them feel. Instead, couples should be more descriptive of their feelings, because that's the crux of the issue. For instance, rather than "I can't believe you were late for dinner and didn't call me! This is just like last month when you [insert past indiscretion here]." A better way to truly express your real feelings about your partner's lack of punctuality would be to say, "It makes me sad when you are late and I don't know where you are. I get worried and feel sick to my stomach."
  • Fight to Love, Not to Win. If you get into an argument with your spouse with the intention of proving how "right" you are, the argument will never be resolved. Instead, make love your goal during the dust-up. All couples fight, but there is a way to fight with harmony in mind. Insulting your partner, bringing up past fights, giving the silent treatment, or pretending like nothing is wrong are ineffective ways to solve an argument and merely add fuel to the fire.
  • Keep It Sweet. Utah researchers found that marital arguing style has a correlation to couples' heart health. Couples who argued with hostility (Think remarks like, "Don't you know anything, you idiot?") were more likely to experience poor cardiac health than couples who argued with kindness (Think remarks like, "What you said just now hurt me. Can we talk about it?"). This type of composure during an argument is certainly easier said than done, so have a few safety mechanisms in place ahead of time. For instance, agree to take a breather for 30 minutes when arguments start to spiral out of control, or use a safety word (perhaps a funny reference to your favorite comedy) to defuse the situation.
Lastly, be sure to end each argument or cold spell with your spouse with affection and gratitude. It is easy to forget appreciation and love when you are in the middle of a fight with your partner, which is why it is so important to express these emotions after the issue is resolved.


Geraldine said...

It is so easy to get caught up in the 'little details' that really don't amount to a hill of beans in the big pic. J and I have been through so many 'storms' especially in the past few years, which we weathered together and came through. When I am getting myself wound up over trivial things, I just remember (or try to) what really is important and what can be left alone.

Michelle said...

Hi G,

Congratulations on getting through those difficult times.

True, when a person is stressed out, the small things grow to gigantic proportions, and the big things are just overwhelming.

Stepping back from it all, even for a short while, and getting some perspective can be very valuable, and very stress-reducing. :-)

Joseph said...

Arguing over things that are trivial are not important. Life is too short for all that. What good comes out of it, in the end?

Michelle said...

Hi Joseph,

Absolutely right, nothing good comes of it. However, when people are stressed, they sometimes lose perspective on what is trivial.

It's good to stop at the beginning of an argument and take a deep, relaxing breath or ten. A lot of arguments can be avoided if a person takes a moment to check their perspective.

Karen Sherman, Ph.D. said...

Conflicts in a relationship are bound to happen and yes, it is unhealthy to keep your feelings in. Couples who know how to manage their conflicts thrive and even get closer to one another. As a relationship expert, I offer a free teleseminar, "The 7 Tools to Manage Conflict Communication in Your Relationship." To hear it, go to:

Michelle said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing the url to your teleseminar. I'll check it out, too!