conflict in relationships research

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4. Your Conflict Style Predicts Your Health Issues

It doesn't take an expert to guess that people who tend to get angry during spats with their partner are more likely to have heart-related issues later on. Stonewallers (the "I don't want to talk about this right now" type) are also at increased risk—this time, for musculoskeletal problems like back pain. In a 20-year study just published in Emotion, researchers followed 156 couples (half in their 40s, the other half in their 60s, all married for at least 15 years) by bringing them into the lab every five years and asking about their health, and videotaping them as they talked about a current conflict in the relationship. After analyzing the tapes for signs of anger and stonewalling, the researchers discovered the heart and musculoskeletal connections. "When people stonewall, they're usually feeling something inside but they don't want to let it show, and they tend to get physically tense and stiff," says Robert Levenson, PhD, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and one of the authors of the study. "It's like there's a car that's pulling out of the garage and you're standing in front of it trying to hold it back, only the car is your emotions." The other important takeaway: Whatever disagreements you two have, try to resolve them sooner rather than later so they don't wear on your mind and body for decades. A lot of the couples in this study had the same conflict year in and year out, and they usually discussed it in eerily similar terms. Says Levenson, "Sometimes we'd be listening in and wondering, 'Is this the same conversation they had five years ago?'"