Stress is Bad for Relationships

At the Ohio State University Medical Center researchers followed ninety couples for ten years. The couples they chose were free of risky behaviors or psychiatric problems, and the researchers specifically tried to choose only people who were happy with their relationships.

The researchers wanted to find out how stress affects the likelihood of divorce. After the ten-year study, this is their conclusion: The more stress a couple experiences while talking to each other, the more likely they will divorce.

According to the researchers, women register higher levels of stress hormones during conflicts (adrenaline, ACTH, and cortisol) than the men they're arguing with. And women with the highest level of stress hormones during conversations with their spouses did not have higher levels of stress hormones than normal in other circumstances in their lives.

Does this concern you? Do you have stressful arguments with your spouse? You can do something to change it. Here are some things that will lower your stress during difficult conversations with your spouse:

1. Reduce the amount of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar you consume. These substances can increase your body's reaction to stressful circumstances. Reducing or eliminating them may make things worse for a day or two, but then your stress level will begin to drop.

2. Learn better ways to argue. It seems the content — the actual topics — of your arguments would have the biggest influence on how much stress you experience, but the process you use is more important. If you use a good process, the intensity of the argument remains lower, which reduces the stress of that particular argument. So your arguments become more productive, which lowers your stress level over time too.

3. Learn better ways of listening. One of the biggest causes of stress in an argument is the lack of good listening. You cannot make your spouse listen well, but you can change the way you listen, and that's good enough to alter the course of the conversation.

4. Lower your general upset-ability through meditation. Regular meditation makes you calmer to begin with, and makes your stressful reactions less intense during arguments, leading to more productive and less destructive interactions.

Do any of these and you will personally feel better, you'll be healthier, and your relationship will be happier. If you're married, you'll be less likely to divorce. And all this will improve your mood immediately and over time.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.

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