EMOTIONAL HEALTH
May 16, 2014

Conflict Shortens Lives

The stress of conflict in our relationships with family and friends can actually cut life expectancy by a lot. Pick your battles.

Close ties with friends and family are very often a source of comfort and security for millions of people around the world. But when our closest relationships fall apart, they can also do a good deal of damage.

In fact, the stress and demands associated with friends or relatives may shorten our lives, according to the findings of a new Danish study.

People who reported frequent conflict with friends and relatives had double or triple the risk of death compared to those who said such conflicts were rare.

The investigators were surprised to find that conflict has a strong effect on the risk of death in middle age, increasing a person's risk of mortality by 50 to 100 percent, Rikke Lund, corresponding author on the study, told TheDoctor in an email.

Lund, an associate professor in the department of public health at the University of Copenhagen, and her team looked at data from almost 10,000 men and women aged 36 to 52. They found that the study participants who reported frequent conflict with friends and relatives had double or triple the risk of death compared to those who said such conflicts were rare.

Men and those who were unemployed were particularly susceptible to the negative effects of relationship stress.

Lund recommends trying not to engage in too many conflicts with friends or relatives; in other words, pick your battles. She added that although worries regarding our closest relationships are natural, when they occur frequently, they tend to be damaging to our health.

“We are trying to get a better understanding of why we see this strong association between conflict in social relationships and mortality risk,” Lund said.

She and her team are currently investigating if the risks of stressful social relationships are connected to inflammatory reactions in the body and poorer outcomes on physical tests such as hand grip strength, since poor physical functioning is associated with greater mortality risk.

In addition to picking your battles, the researchers suggest that people facing conflict in their relationships consider developing conflict management skills as a way to prevent disputes from spiraling out of control and to safeguard their health and that of their loved ones — no matter how maddening they may be.

The study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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