This Is How Much Marriage Physically Hurts

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This Is How Much Marriage Physically Hurts

As you may have heard metaphorically in song before, love hurts. In that sense, a broken heart’s symbolic but not necessarily a physical ailment. Well, not so fast, says a blistering new study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, which was based on past research from 2005. 

The study involved 42 married couples, who reported to a lab to have their blood tested for their baseline interleukin-6 levels, a protein used to gauge inflammation. (Inflammation, of course, can increase due to germs, bacteria, viruses and stress, and can cause a variety of health problems.) The couples were also given blisters on their forearms from a suction device and then interviewed about personal matters — e.g., how likely they were to address conflict and make demands (or withdraw). 

Finally, they were instructed to engage in two separate discussions that were recorded for researchers to evaluate. The first was about their friends and general support system. The second was a little more heated, regarding an existing conflict about money or in-laws. Although not all of these discussions escalated into arguments, when they did, the blisters took an extra day to heal. 

Moreover, using statistical modeling of the previous data from 2005, the current researchers found that when couples had negative communication patterns, they had more inflammation and weaker immune systems compared to couples who could level with each other better. “What we’re seeing is that both chronic daily negativity and acute negativity, and their combination — experiencing both of those — is particularly bad for couples’ emotions, relationships and immune functioning,” Rosie Shrout, first author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science at Purdue University, concluded in a press release

She added that couples with negative communication habits also arrived at the lab with higher inflammation markers to begin with, suggesting their blood was boiling long before they took part in the study. Given the large body of research demonstrating a strong correlation between marriage and better health outcomes, the current study underscores how the opposite might be true, too. 

“Chronically distressed marriages can worsen health,” Shrout explained. “It’s important to understand what is going on behind the scenes that contributes to these effects.”

Love hurts, indeed.

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