The research, from scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, found that men and people who were unemployed seemed to be most vulnerable.
According to the researchers, they wanted to find out if the stressors inherent in family relationships and friendship had any impact on a person’s risk of death from any cause.
To do this, they surveyed about 10,000 men and women between the ages of 36 and 52 about their social relationships. All the participants were already taking part in the Danish Longitudinal Study on Work, Unemployment and Health.
The researchers focused on who — among spouses, children, other relatives, friends, or neighbors — made excess demands, prompted worries, or was a source of conflict. They also tracked the frequency of the demands or conflict.
The health of the study participants was tracked from 2000 to the end of 2011 using data from the Danish Cause of Death Registry. The researchers also considered whether having a job made any difference.
Between 2000 and 2011, 196 women (four percent) and 226 men (six percent) died. Almost half the deaths were from cancer, while heart disease, stroke, liver disease, accidents, and suicide made up the rest.
Around one in 10 of the study participants reported that their partner or children were a frequent or constant source of excess demands and worries, according to the researchers. Around one in 20 (six percent) reported relatives were a frequent or constant source, while two percent reported the stress came from friends.
About six percent reported they had frequent arguments with their partner or children, two percent with other relatives, and one percent with friends or neighbors.
After taking into account a range of factors, such as gender, marital status, long-term conditions, depressive symptoms, available emotional support, and social class, the researchers’ analysis found that frequent worries or demands generated by partners and/or children were linked to a 50 to 100 percent increased risk of death from all causes.
But constant arguing seemed to be the most harmful for health, the researchers found.
Frequent arguments or conflicts with anyone in the social circle — ranging from partners and relatives to friends and neighbors — was associated with a doubling to tripling of the risk of death from any cause, according to the researchers.
Being out of work seemed to amplify the negative impact of these social relationship stressors, the researchers noted. Those who were unemployed were at significantly greater risk of death from any cause than those who were exposed to similar stressors, but had a job.
Men seemed to be particularly vulnerable to the worries and demands generated by their female partners, with a higher risk of death than that normally associated with being a man or with this particular relationship stressor, the researchers said.
They acknowledged that personality may have a role in how people perceive and respond to stress, which may influence a person’s risk of an early death.
The researchers concluded that conflict management skills could help curb premature deaths associated with relationship stress.
The study was published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Source: British Medical Journal