A good fight with your spouse may be good for your health. Husbands and wives who suppress their anger die earlier than couples whose partners express anger and resolve conflict, a recent study has found.
The University of Michigan study followed 192 couples over seventeen years and placed the couples into one of four categories: both partners communicate their anger; husband expresses while the wife suppresses; the wife expresses and the husband suppresses; and both the husband and wife suppress their anger and brood.
Ernest Harburg, professor emeritus with the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said when both spouses suppress their anger at the other when unfairly attacked, earlier death was twice as likely than in all other types.
In fourteen percent of couples, both partners suppressed their anger. In 27 percent of those couples, one member of the couple died during the study period and in 23 percent of those couples both the husband and the wife died during the study period. That’s compared to only six percent of couples where both spouses died in the remaining three groups combined. Only nineteen percent in the remaining three groups combined saw one partner die during the study period.
“When couples get together one of their main jobs is reconciliation about conflict,” Harburg says. “Usually nobody is trained to do this. If they have good parents, they can imitate, that’s fine, but usually the couple is ignorant about the process of resolving conflict. The key matter is, when the conflict happens, how do you resolve it?”
“Those who bury anger, brood over it and resent the other person and don’t try to resolve the problem, can be in trouble,” Harburg said.
The study adjusted for age, smoking, weight, blood pressure, bronchial problems, breathing and cardiovascular risk.
Harburg stresses that these preliminary numbers are small, but the researchers are now collecting thirty year follow-up data, which will have almost double the death rate, he says.
Harburg, E., Kaciroti, N., Gleiberman, L., Schork, M. A. & Julius, M. (in press) Marital Pair Anger Coping Types May Act as an Entity to Affect Mortality: Preliminary Findings from a Prospective Study (Tecumseh, Michigan, 1971-88), Journal of Family Communication.