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Frequent arguing significantly raises risk of premature death

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds frequent arguing can dramatically increase risk of death

Some people who argue a lot tend to “argue” that they do so because it’s healthier to “get it all out”, but according to a new study, getting into frequent arguments can actually harm your health and even kill you by significantly raising the risk of middle-aged death.

Indeed, previous studies have found that having good relationships with others is associated with better health and general well-being, but until recently, little research has been conducted on how bad relationships can affect one’s health.

Accordingly, a team of researchers, led by Dr. Rikke Lund of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, launched a study to find out if there was any connection between negative social relations with others and early death. Such relations included those with family, friends, neighbors, kids and co-workers.

The study involved 9,875 men and women between the ages of 36 and 52 years who participated in the Danish Longitudinal Study on Work, Unemployment and Health. Each participant was asked questions regarding relationships with others, such as who made excessive demands and caused stress or conflict in the relationship, and who precipitated arguments and how often they occurred.

What the researchers found

The findings of the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that frequent arguments in relationships can triple the risk of middle-aged death. Such findings were reach after analyzing data from the Danish Cause of Death Registry, which enabled the research team to follow the health of the participants from 2000 to 2011.

As a result, the researchers found that 196 women and 226 men who participated in the study had died, with around 50 percent of them dying from cancer. The rest of the deaths were due to heart or liver disease, stroke, suicide or an accident.

The team estimated that ongoing stress or conflict with close family members, such as partners and/or children, increased the risk of death from all causes by anywhere from 50 to 100 percent.

However, when it came to the link between premature death and frequent arguments with anyone, including those outside the family, the researchers found that it could double or triple the risk of early death from all causes, compared with those who experienced only a few arguments.

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The results were surprising to the research team, which also found that among individual groups most at risk for middle-aged death, the unemployed were at a much higher risk than those who were employed and also experiencing similarly stressful social relationships.

Why do stressful relationships increase mortality?

As for reasons why arguing or conflict in relationships raises the risk of death, the research team could only speculate, citing such possible factors as increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol and high levels of inflammation.

They added that factors like high blood pressure and an increased risk of angina could also be possible reasons for why stressful social relations with others can increase the risk of death.

For example, they found a greater risk of adverse health behaviors by those in stressful relationships. The researchers also reported that high-conflict family relationships have been shown to have a “lower compliance with medical treatment” and therefore result in a higher death risk.

By the same token, the team stressed that everyone has their own unique personality and different ways of perceiving and responding to stress, which could also impact their risk of dying prematurely.

What can you do if you have stressful social relations?

According to Dr. Lund, the best thing you can do is to try to reduce the frequency of negative relations to the extent possible. This can be accomplished by taking some conflict management classes, and learning how to better handle excessive demands from those you are close to.

As so simply stated in scripture, “Be swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19, King James Version).

Of course, putting these words into action may not be so simple, but it is possible. And making the effort to be a better listener requires a lot less effort than arguing to resolve a conflict.

SOURCE: Stressful social relations and mortality: a prospective cohort study, Rikke Lund et al., published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 8 May 2014.