The way you relate to your partner can affect your long-term mental and physical health, study shows

June 17, 2011

The potentially lasting implications of day-to-day couple conflict on physical and mental well-being are revealed in a study published today in the journal Personal Relationships.

Until now research has concentrated on the immediate effects of romantic conflict, typically in controlled laboratory settings. In one of the first studies to look at the longer term, Professor Angela Hicks investigated the physiological and emotional changes taking place in the day after conflict occurred, specifically taking into account the differing styles of between participating partners.

"We are interested in understanding links between and long term emotional and physical well-being", said Professor Hicks. "Our findings provide a powerful demonstration of how daily interpersonal dealings affect mood and across time."

Hicks' study involved a sample of 39 participants in established co-habiting relationships, who were tested for the association between conflict (assessed with end-of-day diaries) and sleep disturbance, next-morning reports of negative affect on mood, and cortisol awakening response. Prior to testing, the emotional attachment styles of all participants were measured according to how anxious they were in their relationship, and to what degree they avoided emotional attachment.

The study found that all participants across the sample as a whole experienced sleep disruption after conflict, bearing out the adage "don't go to bed angry". There was however the greatest degree of sleep disruption amongst individuals who were highly anxious in their relationship. The lowest degree of sleep disruption was found amongst individuals who strongly avoided emotional attachment.

Conflict was also found to have for next-day mood. However, some found their mood negatively affected more than others. Individuals more at ease with emotional attachment found their mood was affected more than did individuals less comfortable being intimate with others.

The researchers found no general association between conflict and the next morning cortisol awakening response (a physiological, stress-related preparation for the day ahead). Their findings showed a particular association only, amongst women who were highly anxious in their relationships, whose cortisol response was significantly dampened on days after conflict.

The results of this study have significant implications for the greater understanding of how routine relationship experiences influence emotional and physical health over time. "We already know from prior research that people in stable, happy marriages experience better overall health than do those in more conflicted relationships," said Professor Hicks. "We can now further conclude from our current research that individuals who are in insecure relationships are more vulnerable to longer-term health risks from conflict than are others."

Explore further: 'Controlling' partners suffer more conflict with sexual desire

Related Stories

'Controlling' partners suffer more conflict with sexual desire

June 1, 2011
People who feel secure in in their relationship with their partner have a more satisfactory sex life and are more able to be sensitive in the affection they give. However, people who are insecure, who tend towards anxiety ...

Recommended for you

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Neuroticism may postpone death for some

July 24, 2017
Data from a longitudinal study of over 500,000 people in the United Kingdom indicate that having higher levels of the personality trait neuroticism may reduce the risk of death for individuals who report being in fair or ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.