How Arguing Is Good for You

How Arguing Is Good for You

A good fight with your spouse may be good for your marriage—and may improve your odds for a long life. Preliminary results of a University of Michigan study suggest that couples where both the husband and wife suppress their anger when one attacks the other die earlier than members of couples where one or both partners express their anger and resolve the conflict.

Researchers looked at 192 couples over 17 years and placed the couples into one of four categories: in the first, both partners communicate their anger; in the second and third categories, one spouse expresses while the other suppresses; and in the fourth, both husband and wife suppress their anger and brood, says lead author Ernest Harburg, a professor emeritus with SPH and the psychology department.

“Comparisons between couples in which both people suppress their anger, and the three other types of couples, are very intriguing,” he says. The study, a longitudinal analysis of couples in Tecumseh, Michigan, showed that in the cases where both spouses suppressed their anger at the other when unfairly attacked, earlier death was twice as likely than in all other cases.

“When couples get together, one of their main jobs is reconciliation about conflict,” says Harburg. “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? If you bury your anger, and you brood on it and you resent the other person or the attacker, and you don’t try to resolve the problem, then you’re in trouble.”

The study, which appeared in January in the Journal of Family Communication, adjusted for age, smoking, weight, blood pressure, bronchial problems, breathing, and cardiovascular risk. Although the preliminary numbers are small, Harburg says his research team is now collecting 30-year follow-up data, which will have almost double the death rate. Co-authors of the study include SPH emeritus faculty M. Anthony Schork and Mara Julius.

By Laura Bailey

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