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Hearts hurt when spouses spat

Hardening of the coronary arteries is more likely in wives when they and their husbands express hostility during marital disagreements, and more common in husbands when either they or their wives act in a controlling manner.

Those are key findings of a study of 150 healthy, older, married couples mostly in their 60s conducted by Professor Tim Smith and other psychologists from the University of Utah. Smith was scheduled to present the findings Friday March 3 in Denver during the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, which deals with the influence of psychological factors on physical health.

"Women who are hostile are more likely to have atherosclerosis [hardening of the coronary arteries], especially if their husbands are hostile too," Smith says. "The levels of dominance or control in women or their husbands are not related to women's heart health."

"In men, the hostility their own or their wives hostility during the interaction wasn't related to atherosclerosis," he adds. "But their dominance or controlling behavior or their wives dominance was related to atherosclerosis in husbands." Smith summarizes: "A low-quality relationship is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease."

Smith conducted the study with University of Utah psychologists Cynthia Berg, a professor; Bert Uchino and Paul Florsheim, both associate professors; and Gale Pearce, a Utah postdoctoral fellow now on the faculty of Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

Marital Disputes in the Laboratory

The study which began in 2002 and ended in 2005 involved 150 married couples with at least one member between 60 and 70 years of age and the other one no more than five years older or younger. The couples were recruited through newspaper advertisements and a polling firm. Those who participated had no history of cardiovascular disease and were not taking medicine for it.

Each husband and wife was paid $150
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3-Mar-2006


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