Friends, Family Help Ease Stress From Marital Conflict: Study


Researchers find that strong family and friendship connections help in alleviating the daily stress of marital conflict. Individuals with these connections tend to experience the conflicts as less stressful.

Marital Conflicts And Physical Stress

Having conflicts and daily arguments is a normal part of being married. It is essentially an inevitable part of married life. However, these conflicts could also lead to health problems and physical stress. This is where family and good friends come in.

According to researchers from University of Texas at Austin (UT), spouses who are more satisfied with the quality of their friendships tend to bear the conflicts better. In fact, those with family and friends whom they can rely upon in times of marital problems experienced less physiological stress and are therefore less at risk of stress-related health problems.

Strong Relationships Outside Marriage

Researchers conducted the study among 214 spouses whom they instructed to jot down daily records of marital conflict. They also completed a questionnaire regarding the quantity and quality of their relationships outside the marriage. Further, each day in the morning and at night, saliva samples from the spouses were collected for cortisol testing to measure stress response. This went on for seven days.

Although researchers found no associations between the number of friendships and physical responses to marital conflict, having a good quality of strong and reliable friendships seems to help spouses to experience the marital conflict as less physically stressful. In other words, it is the quality of relationships that help bar the stress response and not the quantity.

What's more, these friendships tend to provide a sort of buffer for the individual by helping them go through the marital conflict, thereby protecting them from the corresponding health problems. This is perhaps because individuals with strong relationships outside the marriage have people whom they can converse and connect with in times of trouble.

Cortisol Levels

Researchers also studied the cortisol levels of the spouses in relation to their marital conflicts. What they found was that the cortisol levels of the spouses were less healthy on days where there is greater marital conflict. Cortisol levels are indicators of physical stress. Amazingly, the association between cortisol levels and marital stress fizzles when it comes to individuals who are satisfied with their friendships.

"Even everyday conflict takes a toll on people physiologically, but we found that the association between marital conflict and cortisol responses completely disappears when people are happy and satisfied with their available social network," said Lisa A. Neff, co-author of the study.

Essentially, researchers of the study found physical evidence of how close friendships can help people ride out marital conflicts and protect them from stress-related physical ailments such as heart disease, depression, weight gain, and insomnia.

The study is published in the online edition of Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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