As part of a new study, researchers monitored 373 heterosexual couples over 16 years to investigate whether disagreeing frequently 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,” Rosie Shrout, who presented the findings at the International Association for Relationship Research conference, said.
During the study, couples were asked questions about their health, including whether they were healthy enough to do the things they wanted to do, whether they had trouble sleeping, if they often got headaches and if they were bothered by nervous and fidgety.
The results were that marital conflict negatively affected health for both husbands and wives, but the negative impact was greater on men. Husbands noted they struggled more with headaches, had more trouble sleeping and were in poorer health generally when experiencing ongoing conflict with their partner.
"When people disagree, and a partner is hostile, negative and withdraws from a relationship, other studies show this causes stress which can affect the immune system and be harmful for cardiovascular health," Shrout said.
“Experiencing a great deal of conflict in a relationship is very damaging to health, as are negative health behaviours like smoking and drinking,” she continued.
“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.”
Meanwhile, couples who fought less experienced health benefits early on in their relationships, but this protective effect wore off in the later years of marriage.