Fighting with a spouse or partner may end up costing you more than hurt feelings – it could actually have real, physical repercussions for people living with chronic conditions.
A study conducted by researchers at Penn State University in the US found that spats with partners can actually worsen painful symptoms associated with arthritis and diabetes.
Lynn Martire from the Penn State Center for Healthy Aging said the findings were promising in that they provided insight into how relationships could impact chronic conditions. “It was exciting that we were able to see this association in two different data sets – two groups of people with two different diseases,” she said.
Researchers were keen to learn more about how and why symptoms of chronic disease get worse. Research has linked happy marriages to better physical and psychological health. For example, a study published last year in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, found marriage could actually help when it comes to the lowering the risk of dementia.
But there is little information on how marriage and relationships affect people living with chronic illnesses. Martire said while other studies usually analysed the impacts of a relationship over a long period, this study examined how both positive and negative interactions with a spouse could impact health from day to day.
The study used two groups of participants and their partners. The first included 145 patients with osteoarthrosis in the knee and the second was comprised of 129 patients with type 2 diabetes. Each participant was told to keep a daily diary with information about their mood, the severity of their symptoms and whether the interactions with their partners was positive or negative.
Researchers discovered in both groups, participants experienced more pain or severity of symptoms when there was more tension with their spouse. Patients with arthritis also experienced pain on the day after a disagreement.
“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,” Martire said. “We didn’t find this effect in the participants with diabetes, which may just be due to differences in the two diseases.”
It is hoped the results could one day help create interventions to help couples living with chronic disease, Martire said.