The better approach, Harburg said, is to work together. "You listen, you don't interrupt, you hear the other person, you talk back and forth. And then you use your imagination, resolve the problem and come to some kind of consensus."
Still, the findings did turn up some evidence that mutual open communication might not be entirely a good idea. The couples who seemed to live the longest were those in which the man expressed his anger and the wife held hers in.
Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Division of Health Psychology at Ohio State University College of Medicine, said it's clear that marital interactions affect the body. "We know that couples who are nasty or hostile with each other when discussing disagreements showed larger increases in stress hormones and greater dysregulation of immune function as a consequence," she explained.
Kiecolt-Glaser and her colleagues published a study in which they found that small blister wounds on a forearm took two days longer to heal in couples who were hostile to each other.
While the new study isn't as complete as it could be, Kiecolt-Glaser said, it does show "the importance of good communication that is consistent over time."
Harburg agreed. "If you're committed to using your intelligence and your creativity to stay in the relationship and solve the problems, then you'll get through all the rough patches," he said.
Learn more about stress and the body from the American Institute of Stress.
SOURCES: Ernest Harburg, Ph.D., professor emeritus, University of Michigan School of Public Health and Psychology Department, New York City; Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., Division of Health Psychology, Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus; January 2008
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