UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Fighting with your partner may lead to bruised emotions and egos, but a new study finds it also may make your body feel worse altogether, especially if you’re battling pain from other conditions.
Prior studies have shown that healthy marriages can lead to healthier bodies, and now researchers from Pennsylvania State University say that spats between spouses can worsen symptoms for patients with chronic conditions like arthritis and diabetes.
“We wanted to drill down and examine how positive or negative interactions with your spouse affect your health from day to day,” explains Lynn Martire, a professor of human development and family studies at the university, in a media release.
The authors examined 145 patients with osteoarthritis and 129 patients with type 2 diabetes for the study, which lasted about three weeks. Participants were asked to record their mood and the severity of symptoms associated with their conditions on a daily basis. They were also told to note interactions with their significant others. Results showed that on days when there was tension with their partners, participants indicated having a worsened mood along with greater levels of pain or other related symptoms.
“It was exciting that we were able to see this association in two different data sets — two groups of people with two different diseases,” says Martire. “The findings gave us insight into how marriage might affect health, which is important for people dealing with chronic conditions like arthritis or diabetes.”
The authors also found that arthritis patients in particular tended to have a longer lasting sour mood and continued tension with their partners on the next day when their pain levels were higher.
“This almost starts to suggest a cycle where your marital interactions are more tense, you feel like your symptoms are more severe, and the next day you have more marital tension again,” adds Martire. “We didn’t find this effect in the participants with diabetes, which may just be due to differences in the two diseases.”
Martire suggests health practitioners consider interventions for couples who deal with chronic conditions.
The full study was published March 22, 2018 in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.