I recently had a wonderful opportunity to go live on the BBC World News with Katty Kay to talk about my passion – strong marriages. We talked about a recent study showing that ongoing conflict in your close relationships increases your mortality rate by two to three times.
While these findings are shocking, they also make sense. Consider how much a bad fight with your spouse can ruin your day – you feel jittery and uneasy, lose your appetite, lose sleep, and can have difficulty concentrating. These are all strong physical responses to an emotional event. This study looked at the direct impact that these emotional responses have on our health. They found that mortality rates increased substantially for middle aged men and women who lived with ongoing conflict in their marriages.
More and more studies are showing how our stress levels directly impact our physical health but most studies have been about work stress, lack of sleep and poor nutrition. I am thrilled that the researches are finally looking at how stressful emotional coflict is and how dramitically it impacts our lives.
I don’t think that we can live conflict-free in our marriages. Anger, sadness, frustration and all of these “conflict” emotions are normal part of the experience of marriage and families. However, we can learn healthy ways to deal with these negative emotions that do not result in trauma to our relationship or to our health.
As I told Katty Kay, the very best way to deal with ongoing conflict is by learning a simply strategy for empathic listening. When your partner is telling you that they are frustrated – repeat back what they said using a phrase like “let me get this straight, you feel…” There is a great sense of satisfaction when we feel heard. There is also an opening up, calming down, and centering that takes place when we hear our own words coming back at us. And that soothing that can take place in the midst of conflict might even save your life.
The study and articles that were referenced in the interview can be found at: