Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hearts hurt when spouses spat

06.03.2006


Artery disease tied to hostility for wives, loss of control for husbands



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.

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.’"

Tim Smith | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.utah.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>