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Relationship Stress Can Affect Health - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Watch the story on CBS by clicking here.


The health benefits of a good marriage are undeniable with married people making more money, enjoying better health and living longer. But new research reports that some marriages can be bad for your health, especially over the long haul.

This study reveals something entirely new about how marriage can affect our health. Here's what they found:

One of the strongest findings in psychology is the link between our relationships and our mental and physical health. The bottom line is that conflict with your partner can affect your physical and emotional well being over time. It’s not just a “today” thing since your mental and emotional health can be severely impacted by a challenging relationship. Your mood the day after a fight will fall especially if you are already uncomfortable with being emotionally close with your partner. The more anxious the relationship makes you, the more emotionally expensive it becomes. The real take away from this study is that being in a stressful relationship leads to longer-term health risks.

But what about the age old question -- are women affected more than men by a bad relationship?

They absolutely are and there are several reasons why this occurs:

More Sensitive: Women’s minds and bodies are more sensitive to hostile comments and behaviors from a male partner. Especially when men are verbally contemptuous, the female partner not only internalizes the label, but her body remains anxious for up to 24 hours longer while he is just fine.

Emotional Memory: We have unpleasant capacity for remembering every detail of a fight and we dwell on it over time. Women just have a hard time letting things go.

Women Are Highly Observant: We are also excellent at picking up those little meta messages in nonverbal behavior—how he looks at us, whether he seemed interested, did he look at her—and if the relationship is framed in negativity, we tend to assemble the worst case interpretation.

Quietly Suffering: Women are excellent assessors of the relationship and are more willing to face it when things aren’t going well. The downside is that women are more willing to adapt to a failing marriage than men are. We tend to become quietly miserable.

So, what happens when one partner becomes more negative about the relationship than the other partner?

Negative Emotions are Contagious: First of all we know that just like a virus, emotions are contagious. Negative emotions can penetrate a relationship and undermine the basic regard we have for one another. We share a home, bills and feelings on a daily basis. The good thing is that positive emotions are much more powerful than negative emotions.

Negative Perspective: Disappointment can become habitual and the entire relationship is framed within disappointment.

Emotional Disengagement: A dying relationship descends into emotional disengagement. The silent killer of marriages, it is often invisible even to the person experiencing it. They are aware that they are withdrawing and that they feel more helpless to effect real change. But their hearts often close up before they really understand how powerful a change this can be. They withdraw to protect themselves from further hurt and pain.

Here's what you can do today to stop negativity from harming your relationship:

Communication breakdowns are a part of loving someone else. But when arguments become gridlocked, the relationship over time will falter.

Stay Present and Remain Calm: As the conflict escalates, remind yourself that you are going into a negative downward spiral and that you have a choice to stay present and calm. Use these tips:

  • Be Concise (don’t whine)
  • Complain but Don’t Blame
  • Start with the Positives
  • Start your Sentences with “I”, not with “you.”
  • Describe what is happening respectfully
  • Talk clearly about what you need and hope for
  • Don’t Store things up—remain focused on a specific item or items
  • Be Vulnerable—express your pain and disappointment
  • Work for Compromise
  • Remain polite and appreciative

Sources:

The Marriage Clinic by John Gottman, Ph.D.


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