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Hearts hurt when spouses spat

"Disagreements are an unavoidable fact of relationships," says Smith. "But the way we talk during disagreements gives us an opportunity to do something healthy."

"If you were concerned about men's heart health, you would ask couples to find ways to talk about disagreements without trying to control each other. If you were concerned about women's heart health, you would encourage couples to find ways to have disagreements that weren't hostile."

And for spouses concerned about each other, avoid both hostility and controlling behavior during disagreements, he adds.

Putting the Findings in Context

Previous research indicates "close relationships are good for our heart health. Having relationships places you at lower risk than feeling lonely and isolated," Smith says. But the new study suggests "that the quality of those relationships is important."

In addition, "the dimensions of quality that are important differ for men and women. Conventional views of harmony versus discord how warm versus hostile interactions are are indeed important for women. But a different dimension of quality is more important for men, and that has to do with power and control in relationships."

Smith says a common factor is anger: wives' anger from feeling hostility or being subject to hostility; and husband's anger from experiencing or at least perceiving a challenge to their sense of control.

That "certainly is consistent with a large body of prior literature on emotions, relationships and health," he adds. "What's novel about this study is taking a snapshot of how couples talk to each other and relating that to a silent, progressive and potentially deadly disease."

Smith also offers another caution about the findings.

"People get heart disease for lots of reasons," he says. "If someone said, 'What's the most important thing I can do to protect my heart health?' my first answers woul
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3-Mar-2006


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