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 The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

nachricht Win-win strategies for climate and food security
02.10.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

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: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Previous evidence of water on mars now identified as grainflows

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope completes final cryogenic testing

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New catalyst controls activation of a carbon-hydrogen bond

21.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>