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Hostility Level in a Marriage Affects Healing Rate

separator A recent report indicates that married couples who interact with higher levels of hostility experience lower rates of wound healing than couples with lower rates of hostility. During the study, a nurse drew blood and then attached a vacuum pump to each participant’s arm, causing a blister to develop. This was done during two 24-hour hospital stays.

After the first blood draw, the couples were instructed to discuss things about themselves that they wanted to change. They were told to ask for help from and to offer help to their spouses. After the second blood draw, couples were asked to try to resolve one or two conflicts they had had in their marriage.

Researchers determined the levels of hostility in the marriages by observing the couples’ behavior. Results showed that blisters healed more slowly after the second discussion, when the couples were trying to resolve a conflict, than they did after the first discussion, when couples were trying to help each other. Among the more hostile couples, wounds healed at only 60 percent of the rate of couples who were the least hostile.

The researchers discovered that the couples who had low levels of hostility secreted higher levels of proteins called cytokines to the wounds. Cytokines play an important role in healing. On the other hand, the couples with higher hostility levels had higher levels of cytokines in their blood, which can increase the risk for heart disease and other health problems.

Archives of General Psychiatry, December 2005.
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