Couple arguingWomen who keep quiet during a marital argument are four times more likely to die earlier than women who express themselves freely during such arguments, according to recently published research.

The researchers refer to this behavior as “self-silencing,” that is, forcing onself to hold one’s tongue during an argument instead of expressing oneself freely. The study also found a higher risk of depression and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in these women.

Eaker and her team looked at 3,682 men and women participating in the Framingham Offspring Study, most of whom were in their 40s and 50s at the beginning of the study. Study participants were followed for 10 years for the development of heart disease and for death from any cause.

The study confirmed that marriage is good for men’s health — compared with unmarried men, husbands were nearly half as likely to die during the follow-up period.

The researchers also found that men whose wives came home from work upset about their jobs were more than two and a half times as likely to develop heart disease as men with less work-stressed wives.

It’s possible, Eaker’s research suggests, that a wife’s problems on the job could be upsetting to a husband because he is unable to “protect” her in this arena.

The current study is the first, Eaker says, to look at behavior, heart disease and mortality in the context of marital relationships. While many studies have looked into marital status and quality and heart disease, none have looked at how these are affected by relationship and communication dynamics.

“Attention has been focused on the changing roles of women and the changing roles and expectations of husbands/men also need to be scrutinized and understood,” said the researchers.

The findings underscore the importance of healthy communication within marriage, Eaker says, although she does urge that other researchers confirm the results “before we make a lot out of them.”

Nevertheless, she concludes, “both spouses really need to allow another person a safe environment to express feelings when they’re in conflict,” both for their own health, and for the health of the relationship.

The study appeared in the July/August 2007 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Source: Psychosomatic Medicine