The silent treatment you give your husband during a marital spat may make him squirm, but a new study shows it could ultimately lead to your demise. According this article in the LA Times, “Married women who keep silent during marital disputes have a greater chance of dying from heart disease and other conditions than women who speak their minds.”
Right on! I’m so relieved they didn’t find the opposite to be true. I’d be dead in two weeks if keeping quiet was the healthy thing to do. Sad to say for my husband, the same isn’t true for men. “But the same can’t be said of married men who keep disagreements to themselves,” the article says. “They had the same life expectancy during the 10-year study as men who spoke out.”
Researchers from Boston University surveyed over 3,500 men and women ages 18 to 77-years old, starting in the mid-1980’s to the mid-1990’s. The study set out to examine the relationship between marital stress and coronary heart disease or death.
When it came to dealing with conflicts, about 30% of men said they usually or always kept their feelings to themselves, compared with about 20% of women who said they stayed quiet. But women who “self-silenced” were four times more likely to die during the study than women who said they always spoke out, the article says.
The study was published online in the July issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine (I kid you not.)
Studies of the health effects of marriage are not new. In general, marriage is good for your health, especially for men. “Married men live seven years longer, and married women live two years longer, than single men and women, respectively,” the article says. “Married people as a group have better psychological health than never-marrieds.”
But when happy couples are compared with unhappy couples, the impact on health becomes more complicated. The article says studies have linked marital discord to a higher risk of recurrent heart attack in women 30 to 65, although for the life of me I can’t think of a single woman in the world who suffers from recurrent heart attacks in her 30’s. Marital problems also increase the severity of congestive heart failure in men and women, the article says.
Here’s one study of specific behaviors among married people that can impact health, especially for women.
Michael J. Rohrbaugh, co-director of the University of Arizona’s Family Research Laboratory, who is conducting a study of heart patients, said the pronouns that couples use in speech — whether “me” or “us” — seem to predict the course of a spouse’s heart disease during the subsequent six months.
“There is something about ‘we talk’ — the collective or communal idea that ‘we are in it together’ that is important,” Rohrbaugh said. Although that study is not completed, Rohrbaugh said the connection between the phrase “we talk” and health appears to be stronger in women than in men. For women with heart disease, repeatedly using the words “I” or “me,” he said, “is like the kiss of death.”
The kiss of death? Isn’t that a bit strong? Smoking cigarettes? Kiss of death. Driving drunk? Kiss of death. Eating McDonald’s everyday for a year? K. of D. But saying, “I” or “me” instead of “we”? Kiss of death? Hmmm. I hope the NIH isn’t pouring too much money into funding that particular study.
Here’s another one that looked at marital discord and immune functioning.
And a 2003 study in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that after marital spats, blisters generally healed more slowly, a sign that stress interfered with immune system functioning.
In hostile couples — those who hurled insults or rolled their eyes when arguing about such topics as in-laws or money — healing was 60% slower than in couples who didn’t display antagonistic behaviors, the study showed. Women tended to take longer to heal than men.
You know, this all sounds a bit silly to me. Healing blisters? Who has time to monitor how long it takes for your blisters to heal? Maybe it’s a watched pot never boils problem. Stop looking at it so much and the damn thing will go away.
That’s not to say that this kind of research can’t be useful. The next time my husband and I are arguing and he tells me to stop yelling at him, I can whip out the data from Psychosomatic Medicine that says it’s good for me to yell. Bad for him perhaps, but good for me.