- New research adds to the body of evidence indicating that relationship quality can affect health.
- The study found that couples with negative communication styles have a slower rate of healing.
- Chronic negative communication patterns were also associated with greater inflammation.
- Experts suggest that it’s best to discuss your differences in a positive, non-confrontational way.
- Being aware of the impact of non-verbal communication helps, too.
A new study published this month in the journal psychoneuroendocrinology reports that the way couples communicate with each other — for example, if marital partners give each other the cold shoulder or avoid talking about their problems — can lead to negative feelings and stressful feelings. which then affect the function of the immune system.
Dysfunctional communication patterns also fuel ongoing bad feelings about the relationship and create chronic inflammation, according to the authors. In fact, study participants showed up at the lab with already elevated inflammatory markers in their blood.
Takes a fresh look at the data from Analysis A
The authors note that marriage is known to have a protective effect on health, with married couples having lower rates of death and disease. However, this study shows that this is not automatically the case.
A stressful marriage can also have negative effects on health.
The original research, which was co-authored by Jane Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, senior author of the current study, involved 42 married heterosexual couples who had been married an average of 12 years.
Their blood was tested at the start of the study for the presence of inflammatory markers, and researchers used a device to create a small blister on each person’s forearm. The blister treatment was used throughout the study to see how well the immune system was working.
Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire assessing their typical communication patterns.
The couples were then asked to have two separate discussions on the film: one related to social support and the other an attempt to resolve a known issue within the marriage.
The researchers coded any negative or positive behavior during these discussions. The couples were also asked to rate the interactions themselves.
Director of Clinical Training and Professor of Psychology at Binghamton University, Matthew D. According to Johnson, who was not involved in either study, the goal of the new study was to examine couples’ level of “demand/withdrawal communication patterns.” ,
“Typically, it’s a pattern in which one partner wants to discuss an issue or event in the marriage, and the other partner withdraws from the discussion (for example, by showing indifference, excitement, or physically leaving space),” says Johnson. he said . “A partner’s withdrawal can then lead the ‘demanding’ partner to increasingly harass or urge their efforts to discuss the issue.”
According to Johnson, couples who had either of these two communication patterns experienced more inflammation, slower wound healing, higher negative emotion, less positive emotion, and worse discussion evaluations at the start of the study.
“More interesting,” he remarked, “predicting negative communication patternsSlower wound healing, fewer positive emotions, and more negative discussion evaluations.
According to Johnson, this “has important implications for the direction of causality.”
In other words, it may show that marital communication patterns lead to health problems.
Johnson further said that this study contributes to a growing body of work, including his own, that shows a link between relationship quality and health.
“Communication is the key to success,” said Hannah M. Garza, TCHATT clinical director at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. “Married couples who communicate openly and have the ability to discuss their differences in a positive non-confrontational manner tend to have better long-lasting relationships than those who argue and fight regularly. “
Garza said communication isn’t just about words. This could include making coffee for your partner, helping with chores, and going grocery shopping together. According to Garza, even small things like telling your spouse during the day that you’re thinking of them “goes a long way.”
“By helping, you let your significant other know that you care and that you are there to pick up the pieces when it needs to be done, or to be proud of them when they achieve something big in life.” are,” she explained.
“Take that extra step to make your partner feel special, in fact, when you see a smile on their face, it will make all the difference to you and their emotional state,” she added.