“There is a large body of epidemiological research suggesting that our relationships are predictors of mortality rates, especially from cardiovascular disease,” explains Bert Uchino, psychological scientist of the University of Utah. “But most prior work has ignored the fact that many relationships are characterized by both positive and negative aspects — in other words, ambivalence.”
In one of the largest systematic reviews on this topic to date, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found that positive psychological well-being appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events.
Many potential psychosocial risk factors for coronary heart disease have previously been identified including stress, Type A behaviour pattern, hostility and physiological reactivity to stress. Several meta-analyses have found associations between coronary heart disease and components of Type A personality. The hallmark traits include competitiveness, hostility, tenseness and aggressiveness. When one partner exhibits many of these components, there tends to be a lack of a mutually beneficial support structure.
Medical Intuitive Mona Delfino identified in her research how each body area has a language as to what the organs do, the muscles, the nerves, etc. When a condition occurs in the body in a localized area, it’s to help us discover what we might need to change in order to keep “homeostasis” in our emotions, mental reasoning, and spiritual living.
More studies are supporting was energy workers have been claiming for years. That there is a direct correlation between our relationships, what we feel and what happens to our body.
Complexity In Relationships Predicts Cardiovascular Health
Uchino and his colleagues — Timothy Smith and Cynthia Berg — were interested in exploring how this complexity in relationships predicts cardiovascular health.
The researchers instructed 136 older couples (63 years old, on average) to fill out questionnaires measuring their overall marriage quality, as well as their perceived support from their spouse. Specifically, they indicated how helpful or how upsetting their spouse was during times when they needed support, advice, or a favor. The researchers found that about 30% of individuals viewed their partner as delivering positive support, whereas 70% viewed their partner as ambivalent — sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting.
Using a CT scanner to check for overall calcification in the participants’ coronary arteries, the researchers found that CAC levels were highest when both partners in the relationship viewed each other as ambivalent. When only one partner felt this way, the risk was significantly less. The effect was independent of gender, meaning that these associations were comparable for husbands and wives.
Given that the participants were married for an average of 36 years, one might predict that overall marital satisfaction would have a significant impact on this cardiovascular risk factor — but the researchers didn’t find that to be the case. It was the positive and negative aspects of lending support that were most significant in predicting cardiovascular health, suggesting that these factors exert their effects independently of overall marital quality.
Scientists are finding more often that people who forgive exhibit better physical and mental health than those who harbor negative feelings about an event that offended them in a relationship. People who forgive tend to support their loved ones more often and have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
It’s not exactly clear why this is the case, but the researchers hypothesize that when both partners perceive each other as a source of ambivalence, it changes their behavior toward one another.
“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,” says Uchino. “This, in turn, may influence their cardiovascular disease risk.”
“People need to realize that the risk factors for heart disease often travel together,” says Dr. Dan Fisher, a cardiologist at New York University Medical Center in New York City. People involved in less than ideal lifestyles with high stress and little encouragement and support from loved ones, tend to have higher rates of several markers for cardiovascular disease.
While Uchino and colleagues can’t be certain that mutual ambivalencecauses higher levels of CAC, since the study didn’t follow participants over time, the results do provide the initial evidence necessary for longitudinal studies on relationship support and cardiovascular health.
Going forward, the researchers are interested in exploring the actual biological, social, and behavioral pathways linking relationship ambivalence and CAC levels, as well as ways to reduce ambivalence in important social ties.
Studies like this are important because they raise awareness of the problem and hopefully we can address social pathways first, before they manifest physically. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure and if more people can learn to support one another, this may speak volumes not only for their relationship, but also their health.