According to a small new study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, having bad arguments with your partner can compromise the health of your digestive system. After surveying 43 healthy married couples about their relationships, researchers left them alone to resolve a current conflict. After 20 minutes of disagreeing, the participants had their blood drawn. It turned out the most hostile couples had higher levels of LPS-binding protein—a biomarker of leaky gut, a condition that releases inflammation-causing bacteria into the body and can lead to different diseases—than those who remained more calm.
"We think that this everyday marital distress—at least for some people—is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and, potentially, illness." —Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD
Obviously getting all riled up during fights is common, but this study shows the implications go far beyond simply having hurt feelings. "We think that this everyday marital distress—at least for some people—is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and, potentially, illness," says lead author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, in a press release. "Marital stress is a particularly potent stress, because your partner is typically your primary support, and in a troubled marriage your partner becomes your major source of stress."
Since disputes are an inevitability of every relationship, the key is knowing how to you duel it out peacefully and constructively without affecting your health. New York City–based psychologist and relationship expert Paulette Sherman, PsyD, says it's important to have a strategy for getting through arguments in a way that keeps both of your stress levels down. Whether you feel a fight coming on or have already gotten into it, keep these tips in mind to make sure your connection stays strong and your gut stays leak-free.
Here's how to keep fights with your S.O. from hurting your gut health, according to an expert.
1. Do a decompression ritual
Before all that built-up cortisol from stress wreaks havoc on your digestive system, Dr. Sherman recommends developing a decompression ritual you can do together to catalyze a response of relaxation. One way to mutually Zen out after a fight? Taking a nice warm bath together. "Take time to breathe and be silent and just attune to each other in a state of peace and centeredness before talking," she says. "The idea is to return to a state of well-being before resuming the conversation so your body recognizes that there is no tiger in the room." Sounds like a self-care win.
2. Hug each other before and after talking
The last thing your probably want to do when you're mad at your partner is give them a hug, but it can make a big difference in how your body functions when you're in that argumentative mindset. "A hug will trigger oxytocin—the bonding hormone—and can ground you, relax you, and make you feel safe," she says.
3. When beginning to talk, use a soft lead in
Don't toss those jabs just yet. Instead, try discussing your conflict with a little niceness. "Start with kind words or some positives so both of you don’t feel attacked or go on the defensive," Dr. Sherman says. "Be sure to modulate your tone so it's not nasty or strident."
4. Watch your language and gestures
Even if your partner says something that's worthy of an eye-roll, it's best to hold back—it's only going to make matters worse. "Using trigger words, cursing, shouting, labeling your partner, and eye-rolling—they're provocative communications styles that would likely trigger a stress response," she says.
5. Be open to hearing out your partner
One thing's for sure: The "my way or the highway" mentality isn't one that will result in a happy, lasting relationship. Instead, be open to hearing your partner out and ask for the same in return. "Try to really listen to, understand, and validate your partner, even when you don’t agree with them," Dr. Sherman says. "This can model and cultivate an environment of mutual respect and create more balanced communication."
6. Keep an affirmation handy to ground and calm you
Not every fight is going to end with a hug and a night of good sleep. But no matter what happens, keeping an affirmation on hand is a easy way to help keep your stress levels at bay. "Maybe it can be saying something like, ‘All is well. My body is healthy and I am calm, safe, and loved.’ This sends a more positive message to your brain and body," she says.
When it comes to healthy relationships, one study shows love is all you really need. Or, find out the date hack that keeps Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard's relationship strong.
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