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Marital strife may make symptoms of chronic conditions worse

June 14, 2018—Upset with your spouse? Try counting to 10—especially if you have a lingering health problem. Fighting with your significant other could hurt your health if you have a chronic condition, a new study shows. It could make your symptoms worse.

Past research has already revealed the connection between satisfying marriages and better health. But few studies have looked at how everyday emotional interactions affect the well-being of people with persistent health problems.

For a recent study funded by the National Institute on Aging, researchers looked at nearly 275 married people. Roughly half of that group had arthritis; the others had diabetes.

Both groups kept daily diaries for about three weeks. They noted their mood, how severe their symptoms were, and whether their interactions with their spouse were negative or positive. Both groups reported worse moods and more pain or severe symptoms on days with more marital tension. And when pain levels were higher for those with arthritis, they tended to have a worse mood and greater tension with their partner the next day as well.

This hints at a vicious cycle, the researchers said. When marital tension increases, so does the severity of symptoms, triggering more tense exchanges a day later. But this spillover wasn't seen in people with diabetes, perhaps because of differences in the two diseases.

This study suggests that improving the quality of relationships—and not merely the medical management of a chronic disease—might improve the health of those with a long-term condition, the researchers emphasized.

Discover more ways the ups and downs of marriages can affect health.

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