The occasional argument is a fact of life when you’re married, and we all know that arguing is stressful. But when spats turn your bond into a battlefield, it can do more than just stress you out—it can literally create holes in your intestinal walls that allow bacteria, partially digested food and other toxins into your bloodstream, making you chronically ill.
The dangerous condition described above is called leaky gut, and a new study by researchers at The Ohio State University found that ugly marital fights can contribute to it. Previous research had found that partners who are hostile to each other have higher levels of inflammation and stress hormones including cortisol, which has been linked independently to leaky gut. For the new study, the researchers wanted to find out more about the marital-arguments-and-inflammation connection.
The study: 43 healthy married couples were interviewed about hot-button topics in their marriage such as money or in-laws. Next, they were asked to try to resolve their biggest disagreements in a room alone over two 20-minute sessions while being recorded on video.
The researchers took blood samples before and after these sessions and then reviewed the videos to analyze the couples’ fighting styles, noting personal attacks, sarcasm, harsh put-downs and non-verbal hostility such as dramatic eye rolls.
The results: Blood samples showed that the people who fought bitterly had higher levels of LBP-binding protein, a specific marker for leaky gut, than those who disagreed in a calmer manner. LBP was even greater in those who also had a history of depression or another mood disorder. Compared with people with the lowest LBP, those with the highest levels also had 79% greater levels of C-reactive protein, a chief blood marker for inflammation.
Since marital stress is associated not only with leaky gut as this study found but also with depression, heart disease and even slower wound healing as previous studies have found, does this mean you should avoid all disagreements with your spouse? Absolutely not! Airing and resolving disagreements is crucial for emotional housekeeping. But it’s the way you approach disagreements that makes all the difference.
These ground rules from The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center will help keep conflicts from turning into mortal combat…
Remain calm. Don’t talk about a difficult topic when you’re already upset. Take a breather—go for a walk or do something else to calm yourself. Revisit your disagreement when you have a cool head.
Avoid words that convey blame or are accusatory. Even if your partner did something offensive, if put in a corner, he/she will be forced to defend himself/herself rather than listen to your position or concerns.
Stay in the present. Bringing up past hurts or disagreements is a distraction and won’t help you resolve your current conflict.
Don’t generalize. Avoid saying things such as “you never help with the kids” or “you’re always spending too much money.” Chances are such statements aren’t true and will simply turn up the heat on the discussion.