It’s the first study to illuminate this particular pathway between bad marriages and poor health, said lead author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The study appears in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
“We think that this everyday marital distress — at least for some people — is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and, potentially, illness,” she said.
Researchers at Ohio State recruited 43 healthy married couples, surveyed them about their relationships and then encouraged them to discuss and try to resolve a conflict likely to provoke strong disagreement. Touchy topics included money and in-laws.
The researchers left the couples alone for these discussions, videotaped the 20-minute interactions and later watched how the couples fought. They categorized their verbal and non-verbal fighting behaviors, with special interest in hostility — things such as dramatic eye rolls or criticism of one’s partner.