Constant Bickering in Marriage Brings New Meaning to “I’m Sick of You”
How serious is this?
Pretty darn serious.
Inside our bellies, we have an extensive intestinal lining that covers over 4,000 square feet of surface area. When this intestinal lining is doing what it’s supposed to, it forms a tight seal that carefully controls what can be absorbed into our bloodstream.
This research demonstrates that over time when couples fight and engage in constant bickering in marriage results in compromising this gut lining.
This wear and tear eventually create fissures and holes which allow dangerous bacteria, toxins, and even partially digested food to seep out of the gut and into the bloodstream and underlying tissue.
This ongoing damage may trigger inflammation and dangerous changes in the gut flora (healthy bacteria). The health problems that result may involve far more than just stomach problems.
One of the most promising areas in medical research today are studies that demonstrate that changes in intestinal bacteria and the resulting inflammation may play an essential role in the onslaught of several common chronic inflammatory diseases.
This was the first American study to show the health consequences of constant bickering in marriage. I wrote about a similar European study in a previous post.
Constant Bickering in Marriage Can Make You Seriously Ill
The Lead author of this study was Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, of The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
Here’s what she said about the findings:
“We think that this everyday marital distress – at least for some people – is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and, potentially, illness. Hostility is a hallmark of bad marriages – the kind that leads to adverse physiological changes.”
The researchers were alert for evidence of hostile behavior, such as contempt, or criticism. Just as Gottman did in his now-famous “love lab” research, they took blood samples before and after these difficult conversations.
The Ohio Team Builds on Prior Research about Constant Bickering in Marriage
In a previous study, the same research team employed a tiny vacuum device which gave the study subjects eight 8-mm blisters on their forearms. Each couple was then videotaped while having these difficult conversations.
The researchers monitored these difficult conversations, and evaluated the couple’s communication skills, paying close attention to the spouses who were aggressively bickering.
After 12 days, the researchers reported that the blisters healed faster on the couples who had better conversations, and the blisters healed slower on the couples who engaged in aggressive bickering.
Why would physical wounds heal more quickly among the more collaborative couples? The researchers think it might have something to do with oxytocin.
“Oxytocin is a protective hormone,” says research leader Janice Kiecolt-Glaser. She noted that the couples who were better communicators had blisters that healed faster. They also had the highest levels of the peptide hormone oxytocin in their blood.