Monday, July 7, 2014

Arguing and the Immune System

excerpts from an article on Medical Press about the effect of arguments between partners (and other stressors) on the immune system:

"Rebecca Reed, a doctoral candidate in family studies and human development in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is studying how a couple's recovery from an argument affects their immune systems and overall health....

Though we hopefully know the difference, our bodies' immune responses don't differentiate between a peeved lover and a predatory lion. When confronted with a psychological stressor, such as a tense discussion or giving a public speech, our immune systems respond the same as they would for an impending physical attack....

Essentially, too much psychological stress literally can make you sick, while the ability to recover from stressful situations may decrease risk of chronic illness and improve overall health and quality of life......."

She believes that one way to turn off the immune response may be for couples to foster effective interpersonal communication with attention to each other's emotional states. This could help them not only emotionally recover from stressors, but also immunologically recover, she said."


When Richard and I have a doozy of a disagreement both of us feel tender, even broken, for a while afterwards.  I go into my cave and hibernate until I feel reconstituted.  Richard immerses himself in his computer. After a bit of time passes, we reach out to each other again.

I really like the idea of each wounded partner helping the other to recover from the effects of arguing.  It's a hard task for someone who is angry or defended to also be empathic.  But the empathy is there, just retreated.  If you can make space for empathy in the rush of anger, the disagreement is likely to be more tolerable, with a quicker, more balanced resolution.

How do you and your partner do arguments and disagreements?  Do you feel the stress of arguing in your body?  How do you recover?


Julie said...

We are working on this. I'm glad you posted this, I've been working on what I will talk about for a persuasive speech and had been considering the topic of Why Couples Counseling is Not Just for the Rough Times. Your article just gave me another great point for it.

Anonymous said...

I feel as though I could write a novel on this topic, and spend the rest of my life researching the relationship between emotional stress and physical/mental illness.

I'm only 25 and have been married nearly 10 months. My wife has undiagnosed health issues that can best be described as "constant chrionic flares of various kinds, causing all sorts of pain everywere, most commonly caused or exacerbated by stress of any sort". And "stress" for her is much broader in definition than most. So I, doing the best I can to be a loving husband, learn to avoid stressors. Which is not easy. But this seems to just build more stress. Any relationship counselor, or person who's been in a successful relationship for any significant amount of time, will advise couples to have open, constant communication. That great--unless your spouse seems to always end up with increased writhing pain during any kind of communication that isn't merrily happy-happy-joy-joy.

I've found that the most loving thing I can do for my wife is put off whatever isn't absolutely necessary to discuss, and to not let my feelings get hurt so easily, and when communicating, make the vast majority of conversations uplifting, fun, distracting, entertaining, or just goofy. If there's something I really feel I need to talk about that falls in the "stressful" category, be direct and kind and open, not accusatory, but mostly focus on what my feelings are.

My wife is the type who, pre-illness (and even on an occasional good day recently) can run circles around me. But now, tables are flipped and I need to slow it down. Do what's important. say No to a lot of things. Say Yes to whateever it is my wife needs (whether she vocalizes it or not). And continue pursuing the things I know I need to pursue.

I've got a lot to learn, and I appreciate this blog and the discussions taking place. I hope to learn more here.

Anonymous said...

After over 12 years of dealing with the effects of my chronic illness (Crohns and transverse myelitis), my partner cheated on me. The stress is like no other I have ever experienced. My battery is depleted and I so need to feel like I am once again safe and secure and cherished. Illness is tough enough, but take away your only support system . . . well, my fears are that unless we begin to rebuild, on the same page, with better communication, I may well crumble under the strain.

I would love to know more about how to deal with stress that comes from such betrayal. It is different, persistent, and can not be run away from.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

The stress of living with illness can be monumental. Add to that the stress of feeling betrayed by your primary caregiver - well, that can be crushing. There are the usual approaches to stress - find additional support people, meditation, self expression through words or art. These can help, but personally, I think communication is the bridge. And it may be the hardest communication you've done because it needs to be truth with compassion. This means finding ways to express your hurt and anger while also holding your partner and your relationship with loving kindness. It does not good to blast away or to be silent. Neither builds a bridge. A bridge requires listening as much as speaking; and a commitment to caring even when you're hurting. It is the process of moving through the crisis that begins the rebuilding of trust. A good couples therapist can be very helpful. I hope you find your path.