The New York Times discusses recent findings suggesting that not expressing feelings during marital arguments is bad for women’s health, but not for men’s.
The article draws on the results of a study that followed over 3,500 people and looked at both the quality of their marriage and whether they developed heart disease.
Interestingly, the overall level of marital satisfaction and total number of disagreements were not related to heart problems.
However, women who “self-silenced” during conflict with their spouse, compared with women who did not, had four times the risk of dying. This was not the case with men.
The tendency to bottle up feelings during a fight is known as self-silencing. For men, it may simply be a calculated but harmless decision to keep the peace. But when women stay quiet, it takes a surprising physical toll.
“When you’re suppressing communication and feelings during conflict with your husband, it’s doing something very negative to your physiology, and in the long term it will affect your health,” said Elaine Eaker, an epidemiologist in Gaithersburg, Md., who was the study’s lead author. “This doesn’t mean women should start throwing plates at their husbands, but there needs to be a safe environment where both spouses can equally communicate.”
Other studies led by Dana Crowley Jack, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., have linked the self-silencing trait to numerous psychological and physical health risks, including depression, eating disorders and heart disease.
Keeping quiet during a fight with a spouse is something “we all have to do sometimes,” Dr. Jack said. “But we worry about the people who do it in a more extreme fashion.”
Nevertheless, men are not without their seemingly gender specific health risks. The study found that men with wives who were upset by work were almost three times more likely to develop heart disease.
The study is another example of how mental and physical health are completely intertwined.