Psychologists monitored 373 couples over 16 years and found that couples who disagree often have poorer health – especially for men.
A bad marriage with frequent conflicts could have a serious detrimental impact on your health, according to psychologists.
The researchers at the universities of Nevada and Michigan monitored 373 heterosexual couples to investigate whether disagreeing about multiple topics – such as children, money, in-laws and leisure activities – had negative health implications.
“We followed married couples over the first 16 years of marriage and compared the subjective health of wives and husbands who reported a greater number of conflict topics to those who reported fewer,” said Rosie Shrout, who presented the preliminary results at the International Association for Relationship Research conference in Colorado.
The researchers found that marital conflict negatively affected health for both husbands and wives, although there was a greater impact of conflict on men than women. Couples who agreed with each other more experienced health benefits early on in their relationships, but this protective effect wore off in the later years of marriage.
The health ratings were calculated by asking spouses to answer questions about their health, including whether their health interfered with their work, if they were healthy enough to do the things they wanted to do, if they were having trouble sleeping, if they were bothered by nervousness and feeling fidgety, and whether they were troubled by headaches.
Conflict in a relationship can lead to damaging responses in the body such as inflammation, changes in appetite and increased release of stress hormones, all of which can affect numerous aspects of health ranging from heart function to the immune system, previous research has found.
A body of evidence suggests married people tend to live longer, healthier lives than those who are divorced, widowed or never married. “They have better psychological wellbeing, they are less likely to develop illnesses, and they heal faster when they are sick,” Shrout said.
In contrast, the results of this recent study might challenge the notion that marriage is always a good thing when it comes to health and wellbeing. “Experiencing a great deal of conflict in a relationship is very damaging to health, as are negative health behaviours like smoking and drinking,” explained Shrout.
“It’s not the act of walking down the aisle or signing a marriage licence that is beneficial for health – it’s what spouses do for each other throughout the marriage.”
The study also looked at the number of marital conflicts and the health impacts this had on wives and husbands individually. Whereas for wives the specific number of disagreement topics was unrelated to their health, the decline in husbands’ health was driven by the number of disagreement topics.
“Conflict can be particularly damaging for health if spouses are hostile or defensive during disagreements or if they are arguing about the same topic over and over again without any resolution,” said Shrout.
Veronica Lamarche, a professor of social psychology at the University of Essex who was not involved in the study, warned that these bodily responses to relationship conflict can cause long-term damage.
“There’s quite a bit of research linking relationship conflict to different types of physiological responses, such as increased release of stress hormones, inflammation, changes in appetite regulation, and immune functioning,” she said.
“It isn’t the case that a single fight in a relationship will irreparably harm your health, but frequent fighting over many years will take a toll – it’s important to work on communicating with each other effectively to help minimise conflict.”
Try to stop yourself thinking about them – and remember that jealousy works both ways.
Every time you think of your ex with their new partner, visualise the word “stop” or imagine a red traffic light. Go back to thinking about your own life and how you can make it better.
The idea that your ex is having a wonderful life is a story you are telling yourself. It is a type of self-harm story, but it is not one you are reading, it is one you are writing. You are its author
The new partner is often jealous of your ex’s marriage to you, the pull of any children from that marriage, the pull of family events. So, when you feel left out, think of that.
You will understandably have little or no sympathy for the woman or man that your ex is now with, but it is important to know that life will definitely not be rosy on the other side of the equation. You should remember this when you are feeling that your life is less than – in fact, your life is more than.
Try to do one thing each day for yourself, not just as a distraction, but as a way of making your life significant to you. Go to the gym or read a book. Meet a friend or go for a walk. Instead of feeling on the outside of someone else’s life, find a way to put yourself inside yours.
It’s not a message likely to be found on many Valentine’s cards but research has found that couples who argue together, stay together.
Couples who argue effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who sweep difficult issues under the carpet, according to a survey of almost 1,000 adults.
Many couples mistakenly believe that avoiding discussing sensitive issues means avoiding an argument, which, in turn, will be good for their relationship, said Joseph Grenny, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Crucial Conversations.
“But the biggest mistake that couples make is avoidance,” he said. “We feel something but say nothing. At least until we can’t stand it anymore. So we wait until we are certain to discuss it poorly before we bring it up.
“We tend to avoid these conversations because we are conscious of the risks of speaking up, but unconscious of the risks of not speaking up,” he said. “We tend to only weigh the immediate and obvious risks without considering the longer term costs to intimacy, trust and connection.”
More than four in five respondents to the survey said poor communication played a role in a previous failed relationship.
One half cited poor communication as the significant cause of the failed relationship. But crucially, Grenny said, fewer than one in five believe they are usually to blame when a conversation goes poorly.
“The biggest unconscious mistake couples make is failing to take emotional responsibility for their feelings,” he said. “We think others are ‘making’ us feel the way we are – and fail to see our role in our own emotions. That’s why when we discuss our concerns with our loved one we are so often filled with blame and provoke defensiveness.”
Grenny said the three most difficult topics for couples to discuss were sex, finances and irritating habits.
“The success of a relationship is determined by the way in which sensitive issues are debated,” he said. “True love takes work. Real intimacy is not just about love but is also about truth. And crucial conversations are the vehicle for surfacing truth in a way that accelerates a feeling of intimacy, trust and connection.”
How To effectively argue with your partner
Manage your thoughts
Soften your judgments by asking yourself why a reasonable, rational and decent person would do what your partner is doing
Affirm before you complain
Don’t start by diving into the issue. Let your partner know you respect and care for them first
Start with the facts
Strip out the accusatory, judgmental and inflammatory language
Be tentative but honest
Having laid out the facts, tell your partner why you’re concerned. But don’t do it as an accusation: share it as an opinion
If you’re open to hearing your partner’s view, they’ll be more open to yours
Accept you can never lie again, don’t be bullied and never blame your partner for your affair.
Accept you can never lie again, no matter how white the fib. You’ve forfeited all rights to this, forever, and the only circumstances where it’s acceptable to hide the truth now would be if planning a wonderful treat for your deceived partner. Even then, aim for omission rather than actual lying.
Make sure there are no further bombshells likely to drop. Keeping emotional secrets from a partner who is taking you back might seem wise, but a clean breast offers more peace of mind in the long-term. Obviously, revealing that you took your lover to the same beach where you proposed to your wife might well prompt an eruption, but not nearly as much as if something like this is revealed a year later.
The one area total transparency doesn’t apply is sex. No matter how much you’re questioned about what you and your lover did together, no specifics. Especially if you’re asked in bed. Stay calm and keep saying it was the worst mistake of your life: you want to leave it in the past and concentrate only on your future.
Don’t be bullied. You did something dreadful but you both want to try again, so there has to be a limit to punishment. You can’t get angry but you can be sorrowful: “Why are you saying this? I’m so sorry for what I did and I want to make things right.”
Never blame your partner for your affair. If there are things you’d like to change in your marriage (more time together, better sex, getting out together) then instigate these without huge discussions. Kiss hello and goodbye, cuddle, be kind and have fun. Recreate the excitement of the affair in your marriage, but never say that out loud.
How do we love now? With the help, and hindrance, of technology. In many ways, those who are looking for romantic relationships in 2018 could not be doing so at a more auspicious time. I’ve lost count of the number of new dating apps and sites, but there seems to be one for every new relationship that blooms under their auspices.
It’s estimated that one in five of us are meeting our partners online. The internet, for all its faults, has allowed us to redefine modern romance. We no longer have to pick from a finite pool of people who live within our postcode, or try to find further common ground with people who share our views on office temperatures (although, arguably, this isn’t a bad way to find a mate). When we go online, we can connect with anyone, and compatibility comes from shared hobbies, interests and passions, instead of boring old geography.
However, some relationships start through a screen and simply stay there – and an increasing number of young people would prefer to have a relationship that was conducted entirely online. According to a study from the charity Internet Matters, 20% of 11- to 16-year-olds say they would be happy to have an online-only relationship with someone they would never meet. Of those who are already in relationships, 10% say they “speak” online exclusively.
I can understand how an entirely virtual relationship would be enormously appealing to teenagers. During puberty, when your body suddenly seems new and strange, and your feelings are intense and unpredictable, you’re extremely vulnerable. Love is thrilling, but distressingly complex. When you keep it online, some of the messiness is contained. When you curate and share the most perfect version of yourself possible, you limit the risk of rejection – and I suspect that if the online relationship doesn’t work out, it’s a bit easier to recover and move on if you’re not missing that person’s real-life presence. Love can cause problems: the internet has brought us something approaching a solution.
Still, perhaps I’m being sentimental, but I find this news desperately sad. Getting to know someone should be a giddy, joyful exercise. It’s hard to truly know anyone before you’re in a room with them, because our online selves are so curated and limited. I’m all for using the best version of yourself to get someone’s attention – we share the flattering, filtered photo, we talk about the way we participate in sports and culture, we don’t always document the fact that we spend an inordinate amount of time eating Domino’s pizza in our pants.
Yet love is what happens when everything that is initially concealed is slowly revealed. To be secure in love is to know that your partner accepts your flaws, and maybe even finds them appealing. I don’t think you can feel happy or relaxed with a partner when you know they only accept the perfect version of “you”, especially while you’re in the dark about the secrets they might be keeping beyond the screen.
The idea that the virtual world is better and easier to inhabit than the physical one is scarily seductive. Living in the real world comes with considerable risks, but the rewards are enormous too. We know that human touch is good for us, and spending too much time online exacerbates anxiety. When I was at school in the mid-1990s, sex education focused on pain, not pleasure. Sex was seen as frightening, and could lead to unwanted pregnancy and STIs. I wonder if we’ve focused so much on protecting children that we have made all relationships seem terrifying. We have done generations a disservice by neglecting to talk to them about the emotional growth and fulfilment that a positive relationship can bring.
To progress, we need to acknowledge that the internet plays an enormous part in the way we meet people, and its role is growing. When it comes to safety and conduct, we’re keen to warn children away. We tell them to be wary of predators, and to know that they can never be sure who they’re talking to. This is sage advice, but perhaps it’s time to tell them how to recognise the good people who use the internet – and give them the skills and confidence to be prepared when they’re adults to take that relationship offline.
•Daisy Buchanan is a freelance columnist and features writer covering arts, entertainment and women’s issues
How does it make you feel when your partner is cold and distant? Or when they’re critical and prickly? Does it make you want to rip their clothes off, order in a vat of whipped cream and install a chandelier to swing from? No? Well there’s your problem – according, at least, to Michele Weiner-Davis, the marriage-guidance counsellor whose Ted talk explaining her unconventional advice to warring couples has been viewed almost 3.5 million times online.
Her advice couldn’t be simpler: shag. Do it even if you don’t want to, do it especially if you don’t want to and, most important of all, do it frequently whether you want to or not. To make it even clearer, she’s borrowed one of the most famous advertising slogans of recent times: Just Do It. “Your partner will be grateful, happier and therefore nicer, too,” she explains from her clinic in Colorado. “It’s a win-win situation for both of you!”
Weiner-Davis’s self-confessed “zealotry” for marriage has its roots in the moment her mother blew her teenage world apart by announcing that her seemingly perfect marriage had been a sham for its 23-year duration. She was 16 at the time, and says she wasn’t the only one who didn’t recover from the bombshell: her mother never remarried and her two sons rarely speak to her.
If couples put the work in, they can fall back in love
The experience, says Weiner-Davis – who states that her greatest achievement is her own 40-year marriage – was transformative. She became a staunch believer in the fact that most divorces can be prevented; that the relief of a post-divorce life is temporary but the pain of divorce is permanent; and that if couples put enough work into staying together, they can fall back in love and live happily ever after.
Over the years, Weiner-Davis has honed her message. She’s now stripped it back to what she believes is the essence of a successful marriage. Gone is any therapeutic consideration of a couple’s history; of their emotional travails; of cause and consequence. Now she is entirely one-track minded: no matter how appalling the state of a marriage, she believes that kind, generous and frequent sex can bring it back from the teetering edge of collapse.
Her realisation was hard-won. “For decades, I was in the trenches with warring couples,” she says. “But there were times when I was not too effective. I realised that there was a pattern to the times I’d failed. There was always one spouse desperately hoping for more touch and because that was not happening, they were not investing themselves in the relationship in other ways.”
Weiner-Davis stopped focussing on the couples’ difficulties from an emotional angle and addressed them exclusively as sexual problems. that when the so-called “low-desire” partner – who is, she is at pains to emphasise, just as likely to be a man or a woman – was encouraged to have sex they didn’t particularly want, not only did they end up enjoying themselves but the high-desire partner became a much nicer person to be around.
There is always one spouse desperately hoping for more touch
“I heard the same story from my clients so often that I did some research,” she said, “and found several different sex researchers who confirmed what I was finding: that for millions of people, they have to be physically stimulated before they feel desire.”
Armed with this new theory, Weiner-Davis began encouraging her low-desire clients to be receptive to the sexual advances of their high-desire spouse, even if they weren’t feeling up for it. “I found that unless there was something a lot more complicated going on,” she insists, “there were usually substantial relationship benefits to making love with your high-desire partner.”
She rejects any suggestion that she’s advocating a sexually subservient, anti-feminist, “lie back and think of England” approach. In fact, she says this is the embodiment of female empowerment.
“It’s not just telling women to spread their legs,” she insists. “This is not just about sex. For a high-desire spouse, sex isn’t usually about the orgasm: it’s about someone wanting to feel that their partner desires and wants them. I’m hoping that women will feel empowered that they are getting their own needs met through understanding their partner.”
No still means no, she says. “But it helps to not just say no. Instead, explain why you don’t want to make love, suggest a later date and ask whether there’s something you can do for your spouse right now instead. “But here’s the deal,” she adds: “There had better be a whole more Yes’s or Later’s than No’s because if the No’s win, it leads to the problems I have been talking about.”
Weiner-Davis points out that while it’s commonly accepted that couples should make all their important family decisions together, when it comes to sex, who ever has the lower sex drive makes a unilateral choice for them both. And, just to rub salt in the wound, she adds, the disenfranchised, high-desire one is expected to stay monogamous. No wonder, she says, they get cross.
I mention Weiner-Davis’s theory to some female friends of mine. The overriding response is: “Oh God, not another thing for my To Do list!” Weiner-Davis is quick to condemn this response. “Imagine if, when a woman said she wanted to have more intimate conversations or a date night, her husband said: “It’s just one more thing on my To Do list!” For a high-desire spouse who experiences love through touch instead of quality time, it’s exactly the same impact. I’ve had grown men crying in my office, crying about the sense of rejection they feel from their low-desire wives.”
I then regale her with the experience of a friend whose husband had started his own business which quickly went catastrophically wrong. The family finances were in peril and he couldn’t cope. His wife stepped in. Alongside her own job and while juggling the childcare, she worked late into the night for weeks to stabilise their security. During this time, she was scrupulous in not blaming her husband, either explicitly or implicitly.
With crisis narrowly averted, the stressed and sleep-deprived wife realised her husband was being snippy and sulky. When she asked what was wrong, he exclaimed: “We haven’t had sex for weeks!” Surely, I ask Weiner-Davis, this shows that not all demands for sex should be met with her Just Do It ethos.
Not at all, she says. “This woman knew his ego needed to be protected and tried to do that by not blaming him for his mistakes. But it sounds like the bigger statement for him was: ‘Am I still a man and do you still desire me?’”
But it’s the selfish, uncontrolled behaviour of a spoilt child, I insist. Weiner-Davis doesn’t disagree. “Women often say that they feel they have three children instead of two children and a husband,” she admits. “But the fact that this husband was telling his wife what he was feeling sad about is a really good sign: some people throw in the towel.
Is the deal explicit, I ask, does the low-desire one say: “OK, we’ll make love more often, but then you have to turn your iPhone off every once in a while so we can actually talk”?
Yes and no, Weiner-Davis says. “This isn’t about keeping score. Relationships are not 50:50. They’re 100:100. We have to take responsibility for doing everything that it takes to put the relationship on track – even if you’re not getting the response you want initially. That’s really hard.
“It’s about asking yourself,” she says, “when he or she speaks and acts badly, whether it’s because you have not had sex for four weeks. Is their anger actually about feeling hurt and rejected? If it is, the low-desire spouse needs to be more sexy – even though they will not want to do this. And the other one needs to ask themselves when the last time the couple spent quality time together.”
On the other hand, Weiner-Davis admits there is a limit. “I’d say that after several weeks, if nothing has changed in terms of reciprocity, then the couple do need to sit down and identify what’s missing in their relationship for each of them and what they would like to have.”
Michele Weiner-Davis’s cure for a sex-starved marriage
If you have a low sex drive try to adopt the Nike philosophy – and ‘Just Do It!’, even if you feel neutral towards having sex at that moment.
If you’re the one with a high sex drive, try to discover the way your partner wants to receive love. It’s typically through quality time, words of affirmation, thoughtful, practical acts of caring and material gifts.
If you don’t want sex at a particular moment, explain why and suggest another specific time – and ask whether you can do something else physical at that moment for your partner instead.
If you have a higher sex drive than your partner, try to empathise with them and accept they might never want wild or creative sex, but see the increased level of intercourse as a gift showing their love.
Remember there’s no daily or weekly minimum to ensure a healthy sex life. As a couple you need to work out together what works for you.
A section of Nairobi women are struggling with the prospect of making marriage proposal to their boyfriends.
Earlier this week, social media was abuzz after a video of a woman proposing to her boyfriend in a public place went viral. She was left humiliated after he refused her proposal, and it later emerged that the man was already married.
Members of the Kilimani Mumz Udaku Zone Facebook group expressed varied opinions on the matter, many still holding to the opinion that the role should be left for men.
This was after one member had asked; “Sasa huki proposia mwanaume we ndio unagaramia wedding ama?? By the way ladies can you do this, me thinking of trying.”
Here is what they had to say.
“Hata siwezi… hata nmepewe dollar million,” said one member of the group.
“Dot com proposals, I’m so old fashioned, hope my daughters never do this… .. My opinion,” wrote another.
“Inaitwa kupenda mtu hadi unasahu kama pia wewe unafaa kupendwa utalia kwa choo,” commented another.
“Hii ni ujinga,” said another.
“Can’t Ata kwa dawa,” added a member.
“Issa hell noooooo,” retorted another group member.
“Cool. Not wrong. It depends on ur thinking capacity,” responded another online user.
“God forbid,” exclaimed another group member.
“Thinking of adding kiuliso kingine… .. Ju ni dem amepropose, hubby ndiye atakuwa anafanya house chores/wifely duties.. Ama kunaendanga aje?” asked one group member.
“Desperation, my thinking,” wrote another group member.
“Haha never ever” wrote one online user.
“Thiz is nonsense I can’t dare, atakuacha then ukuje kutwambia my hubby left me after I proposed to him,” said another group member.
“Ukipropose bwana atakuwa nani sasa, mm naheshimu mungu bwana afanye majukumu yake tu,” responded one group member.
“I did it. .and it worked,” challenged another online user.
“I can only do that if he will be the one to get pregnant for 9months,” wrote another online user.
“Maringo kando… walai cwezi” wrote one group member.
“Unajaribu na wengine tushafanya mpaka akakataa tena,” said another group member.
Being a luddite has never been so dangerous. If you felt for the man who accidentally sent a nuclear missile alert out across Hawaii at the weekend, spare a thought for all those who also “pressed the wrong button” on Instagram, too. When I accidentally liked my ex’s photo, and my girlfriend found out, I also wished I had a nuclear bunker to hide in.
According to experts, I am not alone: these social media flirtations – newly named as “micro-cheating” – threaten to ruin relationships everywhere. According to Dr Martin Graff, a reader of psychology at the University of South Wales who coined the term, “micro-cheating” is a category of infidelity that spans online flirtations, from posting the heart-eyes emoji on a picture, to privately messaging a former lover. In essence, it’s much the same as mingling by the watercooler or buying a stranger a drink in a bar, but now there’s a digital footprint, meaning you’re much more likely to get caught.
When it’s so hard to keep up with what constitutes good social media etiquette and what looks like flirting, how do we avoid accidental micro-cheating?
Liking old pictures
Under 21s call this the “deep like”: scrolling back on social media and liking someone’s photos from weeks ago. It’s micro-cheating because it’s intended to send a signal that says: “Look, I burrowed into your history and I don’t care if you know it!” or “See, I found you fit in 2016, too!” All in all, best to avoid liking anything more than one week old.
Be careful who you search for
We’ve all been there: you go to show your other half a picture of your cousin’s baby, you click on the search bar, and before you can type anything, a list of your recent searches appears. There’s the woman you went out with in college in the top spot and the last person you slept with down at number three. Your partner? Nowhere to be found. If you insist on being a creep, don’t forget the cardinal rule: always clear your search history.
Beware the wrong emoji
With every new update comes the mind-boggling confusion of new emojis. Some things we can be sure of: winky face = unequivocally flirty; waving hand = desperate; aubergine = full-blown request for an affair. For everything else, context is vital. So if you find yourself with a crush on someone who’s not your partner, it’s best not to send them any emojis at all. There was a time when we lived without them, after all.
Never follow your ex
Or loads of attractive strangers, for that matter, because the list of people you follow is public. So yes, we can see the three Sports Illustrated models you followed this week, the fact that you started following your ex again, and the ex before that. Instagram handily puts in it order, so we can even see when you decided it was a good idea to get back in touch.
Posting sexy selfies
Sexy swimwear selfies are great; everyone needs a January ego boost. But thirst traps – hot photo uploads designed for raking in likes – are a strange way to communicate with your partner, who wakes up to your snoring, nearly naked body every morning. It doesn’t take a detective to deduce that a photo of you looking your absolute best might be aimed at a wider audience.
Hanging on to Tinder
Everyone has it: that embarrassing page of apps, three or four swipes across. You may have promised to have deleted your dating apps, but nestled somewhere between your period tracker and your photo airbrusher is Tinder, Bumble or Grindr. You only go on it “to show your mates” or “because you find it relaxing”. Nope. Micro-cheating.
A woman claiming to be a friend of a lady whose proposal was rejected by her boyfriend in Abuja, Nigeria has come out to explain the incident.
Facebook user Christy Glo claims that the man whispered to the woman, who is shown making the proposal, that he was married, according to Nigerian media.
“This lady is actually my friend, but not close friends and we just spoke on phone… She said the reason she cried bitterly after her boyfriend rejected her marriage proposal in public was that when he came close and whispered into her ears, he actually said he was already married. My question is why are men this wicked and heartless?” wrote Glo on Facebook.
The video that has since gone viral begins by showing a woman in a black dress asking bystanders whether they have seen her fiancé.
A few seconds later, the fiancé makes an appearance coming down from an escalator where the woman immediately goes down on one knee with a ring box on her hand.
The man clad in black jeans and t-shirt then expresses shock to the unfolding drama.
A man who was together with the fiancé abandons his friend leaving him alone.
Even with cheers from the onlookers, the man is not convinced and begs the lady to stand up.
He then comes and lifts the woman form her kneeling position with a hug. It is at this point that he may have whispered the heartbreaking news that reduced the woman to tears.