Something that always catches me off guard is when I hear someone say to his or her partner, “You make me sick!”
However, for many of us in romantic relationships, this frightening statement may hold true.
Recent research from scholars such as Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser has shown that how we talk as couples may affect how we feel emotionally and physically.
For instance, research has shown that couples who have more hostile interactions (or moments of high conflict) are much more likely to get sick and have weaker immune systems. In fact, when we are very hostile during conversations with our partners, we literally slow down how quickly we can heal and recover from simple flesh wounds.
How do we know when we are being hostile to our partner, and how do we stop or prevent these types of interactions?
Following are some tips that may help you recognize and stop conversations with your partner that may be detrimental to your health:
• First, make time for quality interactions such as taking a walk or playing a board game together. Approximately 20 percent of men and women with jobs are satisfied with the time they spend with their immediate family. What does that mean? It means that the majority of us aren’t spending enough time with our spouses.
Like anything in life that is worth doing correctly, healthy interactions require practice and experience. If we are not taking the time for quality interactions, then perhaps it’s time to start. Add a few more minutes of time for talking with your spouse and doing fun things together.
• Second, learn to recognize when things are getting too “heated” or out of control. Quite often, we need help “seeing” that we are in the middle of an “emotional flood,” that we are very upset and losing control of our emotions.
Do you ever get so caught up in a fight or argument that you get flustered? Perhaps you forget where your fight even began. Does your heart begin racing? These are little clues that you’re probably too upset to have a healthy or productive interaction with your husband or wife.
I recommend taking a moment during arguments to check for emotional flooding. Pay attention to your breathing, and perhaps take a moment to recognize that you’re getting too upset and that you need to take a break from the conversation. You can say something like, “I am feeling overwhelmed at the moment. So can we talk about this after I have calmed down?”
• Finally, from time to time, you should give your spouse a “pass.” Sometimes we get ornery after a hard day at work or a long day with the children. By forgiving our partner for those moments of frustration, we not only create room for our partners to forgive us of our own faults, but we also recognize how little mistakes should not lead to big consequences — such as hostile fights that harm our own health.
The article by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues is available free of charge at http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=209153
Daniel Hubler is a faculty member in Weber State University’s department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.