The Benefits of Hashing It Out

It’s not the most fun way to spend an evening, but the data is clear: Couples who argue are better off than those who never rock the boat.


by Michael Ansaldo

photo courtesy of Guru Khalsa

filed under Fighting, Science of Love

No one likes fighting, particularly with their partner, but there’s plenty of data that suggests we shouldn’t shy away from it. Arguing has a host of benefits for both you and your relationship.

How you fight matters, though. Disagreements should be respectful and work toward an outcome both parties can live with. If you can do that, your partnership will reap the following rewards.

You’ll Stay Together

Multiple studies have shown that regular fighting strengthens a relationship. Arguing helps couples express their feelings, determine mutual priorities, and resolve conflicts before they fester and grow. It also keeps communication lines open, which is key to staying together for the long haul.

The caveat is you have to fight fairly. Agreeing when to argue, staying on topic, and avoiding personal attacks are some of the key rules to guide your discussion. If you resort to name-calling, screaming, and other counterproductive tactics, your fight will quickly turn from constructive to corrosive.

You’ll Have Better Sex

If a good row has ever felt like foreplay, it wasn’t your imagination. We’re all hardwired to preserve our close relationships. When you perceive a threat to a relationship, such as a fight, your attachment system reacts by pushing you to increase your sense of closeness and security with the other person.

A romantic relationship adds a sexual charge to this biological brew, so you may find yourself going from fuming to frisky as soon as the fight ends. Go with that feeling. Sex is a great way to reconnect after an argument. Just don’t go picking fights to get some extra action.

You’ll Be Healthier

This may seem counterintuitive because fighting generally makes you feel awful. But a UCLA study found “a constructive argument with your spouse can increase immunity.” Researchers tested 41 “happy” couples after they discussed their marital issues for 15 minutes. The researchers detected “surges in blood pressure, heart rate, and immune-related white blood cells,” which they likened to the effects seen after mild exercise.

The study found the converse is also true. Couples who frequently resorted to “sarcasm, insults, and put-downs” during conflicts had higher stress hormones, fewer virus-fighting cells, and took 40 percent longer to recover from injuries.

You’ll Live Longer

Partners who bury their anger get buried themselves significantly earlier. That’s what researchers found after studying 192 married couples, focusing on “aggressive behavior considered unfair or undeserved by the person being ‘attacked.’”

The study compared the death rates of couples who they identified as expressing anger versus suppressing it. In couples where both parties suppressed their anger, about 27 percent of the suppressors died during the 17-year-long study period. Conversely, only 19 percent of non-suppressing spouses died during the period.

The study’s authors suggested “mutual anger suppression, poor communication (of feelings and issues) and poor problem-solving with medical consequences,” were responsible for the higher mortality rates for the non-communicative couples.

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