Arguing with a partner isn’t just upsetting – it’s also bad for your heart.
People who think their partner is unsupportive are more likely to develop heart disease, a study has found.
Scientists at the University of Utah found people who say their spouse is sometimes supportive but also sometimes upsetting have higher levels of artery calcification.
This suggests their arteries are diseased and they are at greater risk of premature death.
The findings showed that when both partners perceive the support they get from each other as ambivalent – that is, sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting – each partner’s levels of coronary artery calcification tend to be particularly high.
‘There is a large body of research suggesting that our relationships are predictors of mortality rates, especially from cardiovascular disease,’ said Bert Uchino, a psychological scientist at the University of Utah.
‘But most prior work has ignored the fact that many relationships are characterised by both positive and negative aspects – in other words, ambivalence.’
Dr Uchino and his colleagues were interested in exploring how this complexity in relationships predicts cardiovascular health.
The researchers asked 136 older couples – with an average age of 63 – to fill out questionnaires measuring their overall marriage quality, as well as their perceived levels of support from their spouse.
Specifically, they indicated how helpful or upsetting their spouse was during times when they needed support, advice, or a favour. The researchers found that about 30 per cent of individuals viewed their partner as delivering positive support, whereas 70 per cent viewed their partner as ambivalent – sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting.
Using a CT scanner to check for overall calcification in the participants’ coronary arteries, the researchers found that artery calcification levels were highest when both partners in the relationship viewed each other as ambivalent.
When only one partner felt this way, the risk was significantly less. The effect was independent of gender, meaning that these associations were comparable for husbands and wives.
Given that the participants were married for an average of 36 years, one might predict that overall marital satisfaction would have a significant impact on cardiovascular disease risk – but the researchers did not find that to be the case.
It was the positive and negative aspects of lending support that were most significant in predicting cardiovascular health, suggesting that these factors exert their effects independently of overall marital quality.
It is not exactly clear why this is the case, but the researchers hypothesise that when both partners perceive each other as a source of ambivalence, it changes their behaviour toward one another.
‘The findings suggest that couples who have more ambivalent views of each other actively interact or process relationship information in ways that increase their stress or undermine the supportive potential in the relationship,’ said Dr Uchino. ‘This, in turn, may influence their cardiovascular disease risk.’
While Dr Uchino and his colleagues cannot be certain that mutual ambivalence causes higher levels of artery calcification, since the study didn’t follow participants over time, the results do provide the initial evidence necessary for further studies on relationship support and cardiovascular health.
Culled from Daily Mail