All couples fight, some more often than others, but many of them may be surprised to learn that the more they fight, the longer they may live, a new study in U.S. suggests as quoted by media reports Friday.
Couples who suppressed their anger have a mortality rate twice as high as those in which at least one partner stands up for themselves, according to the study which tracked 192 U.S. couples for 17 years.
"The key matter is, when the conflict happens, how do you resolve it?" said the lead researcher Ernest Harburg, an emeritus professor with the University of Michigan. "When you don't, if you bury your anger, and you brood on it and you resent the other person or the attacker, and you don't try to resolve the problem, then you're in trouble."
The findings add to past research showing that the release of anger can be healthy. Individuals who express anger might also have a sense of control and optimism over a situation.
Bottled anger adds to stress, which tends to shorten lives, many past studies show.
In the current study, the authors suggest a combination of factors to explain the higher mortality for couples who don't express their anger. These include "mutual anger suppression, poor communication (of feelings and issues) and poor problem-solving with medical consequences," they write in the January issue of the Journal of Family Communication.
Over a 17-year period, Harburg and his colleagues studied 192 married couples in which spouses ranged in age from 35 to 69, focusing on aggressive behavior considered unfair or undeserved by the person being "attacked." Harburg said that if an attack is viewed as fair, the victim doesn't tend to get angry.
The researchers found that 26 couples, meaning 52 individuals, were suppressors in which both partners held in their anger. Twenty-five percent of the suppressors died during the study period compared with about 12 percent for the other remaining couples.
In 27 percent of the suppressor couples, one member of the couple died during the study period, and in 23 percent of those couples, both died during the study period. That's compared to only 6 percent of couples where both spouses died in the remaining three groups combined. Only 19 percent in the remaining three groups combined saw one partner die during the study period.
Harburg says the results are preliminary, and his team is now collecting 30-year follow-up data. He expects the follow-up to show almost double the death rate compared with the preliminary findings.