Research: Happy Marriage Aids Healing

A happy marriage apparently is good medicine, but hostile spouses may be harmful to each other’s health. Couples in conflict-ridden marriages take longer than the happily married to heal from all kinds of wounds, right from minor scrapes or athletic injuries to major surgery, suggests a study. And the health toll taken by a stressful job seems to be eased when the worker has a pleasurable home life.

This research, reported at the American Psychosomatic Society, adds to growing evidence that marriage has an impact on health. In the wound healing study, 42 couples agreed to let researchers use a suction device to create several minor blister wounds on their skin in two sessions about two months apart. The first time, couples were told to discuss a neutral topic, while the second time they were given half an hour to resolve an issue or two on which they disagreed. Their discussions were monitored. Researchers also checked participants’ wounds over the next few weeks and their production of three proteins created in wound healing.

The outcome: “Even a simple discussion of a disagreement slows wound healing,” says psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, who did the study with co-author Ronald Glaser of Ohio State University College of Medicine. Overall, couples took longer to heal when asked to thrash out points of conflict than neutral issues. Hostile couples – peppering both discussions with criticism, sarcasm and put-downs – healed the slowest. It took them 40% longer, or two more days, to heal. They also produced less of the proteins linked to healing.

On the upside, good marriages may buffer couples against the stress of demanding jobs in which the worker has little control. In a study with 201 married adults, those in high-strain jobs had higher blood pressure at the start, says University of Toronto psychiatrist Brian Baker. A year later, though, spouses in pleasurable marriages actually improved a couple of points in diastolic (bottom) blood pressure readings, despite their rough jobs. Meanwhile, those who seldom enjoyed talking or activities with their spouses had about a 3-point rise in blood pressure after coping with stressful jobs for a year.

“You may not be able to get away from the job stress,” says Baker, “but a good marriage soothes people, minimizing bad effects from the job.” This doesn’t surprise Karen Kayser, a Boston College social-work professor and author of When Love Dies, a book about couples falling out of love. “People tend not to recognise how much their marriage can affect the rest of their life,” she says.

Courtesy –  Marilyn Elias, USA Today

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