Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Hearts Hurt When Spouses Spat

Date:
March 3, 2006
Source:
University of Utah
Summary:
Hardening of the coronary arteries is more likely in wives when they and their husbands express hostility during marital disagreements, and more common in husbands when either they or their wives act in a controlling manner, according to a University of Utah study.

Hardening of the coronary arteries is more likely in wives when they and their husbands express hostility during marital disagreements, and more common in husbands when either they or their wives act in a controlling manner.

mon in husbands when either they or their wives act in a controlling manner.

Those are key findings of a study of 150 healthy, older, married couples -- mostly in their 60s -- conducted by Professor Tim Smith and other psychologists from the University of Utah. Smith was scheduled to present the findings Friday March 3 in Denver during the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, which deals with the influence of psychological factors on physical health.

"Women who are hostile are more likely to have atherosclerosis [hardening of the coronary arteries], especially if their husbands are hostile too," Smith says. "The levels of dominance or control in women or their husbands are not related to women's heart health."

"In men, the hostility -- their own or their wives hostility during the interaction -- wasn't related to atherosclerosis," he adds. "But their dominance or controlling behavior -- or their wives dominance -- was related to atherosclerosis in husbands." Smith summarizes: "A low-quality relationship is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease."

Smith conducted the study with University of Utah psychologists Cynthia Berg, a professor; Bert Uchino and Paul Florsheim, both associate professors; and Gale Pearce, a Utah postdoctoral fellow now on the faculty of Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

Marital Disputes in the Laboratory

The study -- which began in 2002 and ended in 2005 -- involved 150 married couples with at least one member between 60 and 70 years of age and the other one no more than five years older or younger. The couples were recruited through newspaper advertisements and a polling firm. Those who participated had no history of cardiovascular disease and were not taking medicine for it.

Each husband and wife was paid $150 to participate, and also received free of charge a $300 CT scan to look for calcification in their coronary arteries -- the arteries that supply the heart muscle and that can cause a heart attack when clogged. Smith says that in otherwise healthy people, calcification represents hardening and narrowing of the arteries that puts them at risk for later heart attack.

Each couple was told to pick a topic -- such as money, in-laws, children, vacations and household duties -- that was the subject of disagreements in their marriage. Then, while sitting in comfortable chairs and facing each other across a table, each couple discussed the chosen topic for six minutes while they were videotaped.

Psychology graduate students coded the videotaped conversations so that "each comment that reflected a complete thought" was given a code indicating the extent to which it was friendly versus hostile, and submissive versus dominant or controlling.

For example, comments like, "You can be so stupid sometimes" or "you're too negative all the time," were coded as hostile and dominant. Another dominant or controlling comment would be, "I don't want you to do that; I want you to do this."

"A warm, submissive comment would be, 'Oh that's a good idea, let's do it,'" Smith says. "A less warm one would be, 'If it's important to you, I'll do what you want.' An unfriendly, submissive comment is, 'I'll do what you want if you get off my back.'"

Smith says some of the marital discussions were calm and peaceful, but in some cases, the couples were quite hostile, prompting the psychology graduate students to refer them to marriage counseling. The researchers assumed that a couple's behavior during the discussion reflected their long-term pattern of behavior, although a marital spat in front of researchers likely "is a muted version of what goes on at home," Smith adds.

Two days after their discussion, each couple underwent a CT scan of the chest at the University of Utah's Center for Advanced Medical Technologies. Doctors used a standard scale to score each person's level of coronary artery calcification -- an indicator of atherosclerotic plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.

Since the participants were healthy, none of the "silent" atherosclerosis revealed by the CT scans amounted to a medical emergency. "But there were people who had scores high enough they needed to discuss it with their doctor, because statistically it placed them at a high risk of a coronary event," Smith says.

Findings of the Study

The researchers found:

  • The more hostile the wives' comments during the discussion, the greater the extent of calcification or hardening of the arteries. And "particularly high levels of calcification were found in "women who behaved in a hostile and unfriendly way and who were interacting with husbands who were also hostile and unfriendly."

  • The extent to which either wives or husbands acted in a dominant or controlling manner was unrelated to the severity of hardening of the arteries in the wives.

  • The extent to which wives or husbands spoke with hostility had no relationship to the severity of hardening of the arteries in the husbands.

  • Husbands who displayed more dominance or controlling behavior -- or whose wives displayed such behavior -- were more likely than other men to have more severe hardening of the arteries.

    "Another way to say it is that either being controlling or being married to someone who is controlling is enough to promote atherosclerosis in men," says Smith "So in couples where there was not a struggle for control -- where it wasn't a contest -- those men had much lower levels of atherosclerosis.

    To sum it all up, hostility during marital disputes was bad for women's hearts, while controlling behavior during marital disputes was bad for men's hearts.

    "Disagreements are an unavoidable fact of relationships," says Smith. "But the way we talk during disagreements gives us an opportunity to do something healthy."

    "If you were concerned about men's heart health, you would ask couples to find ways to talk about disagreements without trying to control each other. If you were concerned about women's heart health, you would encourage couples to find ways to have disagreements that weren't hostile."

    And for spouses concerned about each other, avoid both hostility and controlling behavior during disagreements, he adds.

    Putting the Findings in Context

    Previous research indicates "close relationships are good for our heart health. Having relationships places you at lower risk than feeling lonely and isolated," Smith says. But the new study suggests "that the quality of those relationships is important."

    In addition, "the dimensions of quality that are important differ for men and women. Conventional views of harmony versus discord -- how warm versus hostile interactions are -- are indeed important for women. But a different dimension of quality is more important for men, and that has to do with power and control in relationships."

    Smith says a common factor is anger: wives' anger from feeling hostility or being subject to hostility; and husband's anger from experiencing or at least perceiving a challenge to their sense of control.

    That "certainly is consistent with a large body of prior literature on emotions, relationships and health," he adds. "What's novel about this study is taking a snapshot of how couples talk to each other and relating that to a silent, progressive and potentially deadly disease."

    Smith also offers another caution about the findings.

    "People get heart disease for lots of reasons," he says. "If someone said, 'What's the most important thing I can do to protect my heart health?' my first answers would be, 'Don't smoke,' 'Get exercise' and 'Eat a sensible diet.' But somewhere on the list would be, 'Pay attention to your relationships.'"



  • Story Source:

    The above story is based on materials provided by University of Utah. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


    Cite This Page:

    University of Utah. "Hearts Hurt When Spouses Spat." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 March 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303023332.htm>.
    University of Utah. (2006, March 3). Hearts Hurt When Spouses Spat. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303023332.htm
    University of Utah. "Hearts Hurt When Spouses Spat." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303023332.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

    Share This




    More Health & Medicine News

    Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Featured Research

    from universities, journals, and other organizations


    Featured Videos

    from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

    Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law

    Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law

    AP (July 22, 2014) Two federal appeals courts issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on the legality of the federally-run healthcare exchange that operates in 36 states. (July 22) Video provided by AP
    Powered by NewsLook.com
    Why Do People Believe We Only Use 10 Percent Of Our Brains?

    Why Do People Believe We Only Use 10 Percent Of Our Brains?

    Newsy (July 22, 2014) The new sci-fi thriller "Lucy" is making people question whether we really use all our brainpower. But, as scientists have insisted for years, we do. Video provided by Newsy
    Powered by NewsLook.com
    Scientists Find New Way To Make Human Platelets

    Scientists Find New Way To Make Human Platelets

    Newsy (July 22, 2014) Boston scientists have discovered a new way to create fully functioning human platelets using a bioreactor and human stem cells. Video provided by Newsy
    Powered by NewsLook.com
    Gilead's $1000-a-Pill Drug Could Cure Hep C in HIV-Positive People

    Gilead's $1000-a-Pill Drug Could Cure Hep C in HIV-Positive People

    TheStreet (July 21, 2014) New research shows Gilead Science's drug Sovaldi helps in curing hepatitis C in those who suffer from HIV. In a medical study, the combination of Gilead's Hep C drug with anti-viral drug Ribavirin cured 76% of HIV-positive patients suffering from the most common hepatitis C strain. Hepatitis C and related complications have been a top cause of death in HIV-positive patients. Typical medication used to treat the disease, including interferon proteins, tended to react badly with HIV drugs. However, Sovaldi's %1,000-a-pill price tag could limit the number of patients able to access the treatment. TheStreet's Keris Lahiff reports from New York. Video provided by TheStreet
    Powered by NewsLook.com

    Search ScienceDaily

    Number of stories in archives: 140,361

    Find with keyword(s):
    Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Breaking News:
    from the past week

    In Other News

    ... from NewsDaily.com

    Science News

    Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins