Be Sweet to your Spouse: Their Heart will Thank You

First Posted: Feb 07, 2014 01:09 PM EST

When it comes to matters of the heart, a recent study by researchers at the University of Utah shows that the ways in which you support your spouse play a significant role in his or her overall cardiovascular health.

"There is a large body of epidemiological research suggesting that our relationships are predictors of mortality rates, especially from cardiovascular disease," said Bert Uchino, psychological scientist of the University of Utah, via Science Daily. "But most prior work has ignored the fact that many relationships are characterized by both positive and negative aspects - in other words, ambivalence."

For the study, researchers instructed 136 couples-all 63 years and older, on average-to fill out questionnaires that measured overall marriage quality as well as their perceived support from their spouse. More specifically, they indicated how helpful or upsetting a partner was at different times when they needed advice, support or a favor.

Study findings showed that around 30 percent of individuals viewed their partners as delivering positive support. However, 70 percent viewed their partner as ambivalent-sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting.

Researchers used a CT scanner to check for overall calcification of the participants' coronary arteries. They found that CAC levels were highest when both partners viewed each other as ambivalent towards one another's problems-and effect independent of gender.

The study authors believe that when both partners perceive each other as ambivalent towards each other, it changes their behaviors in the marriage.

"The findings suggest that couples who have more ambivalent views of each other actively interact or process relationship information in ways that increase their stress or undermine the supportive potential in the relationship," said Uchino, via Science Daily. "This, in turn, may influence their cardiovascular disease risk."

However, researchers caution regarding the study results as the experiment did not follow participants over time. Thus the results do not provide the initial evidence that could potentially be used for longitudinal studies regarding relationship support and cardiovascular health.

In the future, Uchino and colleagues note that they would like to further examine the biological, behavioral and social implications associated with relationship ambivalence and CAC levels.

More information regarding the study can be found via Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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