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Heart Watch Blog: Heart Health And Marital Harmony

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March 3, 2006

Heart Health And Marital Harmony

Heart Health And Marital Harmony
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.

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 to participate, and also received free of charge a $300 CT scan to look for calcification in their coronary arteries - the arteries that supply the heart muscle and that can cause a heart attack when clogged. Smith says that in otherwise healthy people, calcification represents hardening and narrowing of the arteries that puts them at risk for later heart attack.

Each couple was told to pick a topic - such as money, in-laws, children, vacations and household duties - that was the subject of disagreements in their marriage. Then, while sitting in comfortable chairs and facing each other across a table, each couple discussed the chosen topic for six minutes while they were videotaped.

Psychology graduate students coded the videotaped conversations so that "each comment that reflected a complete thought" was given a code indicating the extent to which it was friendly versus hostile, and submissive versus dominant or controlling.

For example, comments like, "You can be so stupid sometimes" or "you're too negative all the time," were coded as hostile and dominant. Another dominant or controlling comment would be, "I don't want you to do that; I want you to do this."

"A warm, submissive comment would be, 'Oh that's a good idea, let's do it,'" Smith says. "A less warm one would be, 'If it's important to you, I'll do what you want.' An unfriendly, submissive comment is, 'I'll do what you want if you get off my back.'"

Daniel      



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b>Heart disease
About 13 million Americans (about 7 percent of the total population) suffer from coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in American men and women amounting a staggering 20 percent of all causes of death. About half of all deaths related to cardiovascular diseases occur from coronary artery disease. Through this heart watch blog we will have our humble contribution towards making men and women aware of the risks of heart diseases.

Heart Watch Blog: Heart Health And Marital Harmony

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