“Conflicts, especially, were associated with higher
mortality risk regardless of whom was the source of the conflict,”
the authors write. “Worries and demands were only associated with
mortality risk if they were related to partner or children.”
Men and people without jobs seemed to be the most vulnerable, Rikke
Lund, a public health researcher at the University of Copenhagen,
and her colleagues found.
The health-protecting effects of support from a social network and
close connections with family and friends are widely recognized,
Lund’s team writes in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community
“Less is known about the health consequences of stressful aspects of
social relations, such as conflicts, worries and demands,” they
To examine the influence of relationship stress on all causes of
death, the researchers looked at data from a long-term study in
Denmark. They included 9,870 adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s when
the study began and tracked their health from 2000 to the end of
The researchers measured stressful social relations by comparing
answers to questions about who - including partners, children,
relatives, friends and neighbors - caused worry and conflicts in the
They also looked at answers to questions about emotional support and
symptoms of depression.
During the study period, 4 percent of the women and 6 percent of the
men died. Almost half the deaths were from cancer; other causes
included cardiovascular disease, liver disease, accidents and
About one in every 10 participants said that their partner or
children were always or often a source of demands and worries. Six
percent said they always or often experienced conflicts with other
members of their families and 2 percent reported always or often
having conflicts with friends.
The researchers also found that 6 percent of participants had
frequent arguments with their partner or children, 2 percent with
other relatives and 1 percent with friends or neighbors.
People who always or often experienced worries or demands because of
their partners had double the risk of dying compared to those who
seldom had those experiences.
Participants who always or often experienced worries and demands
from their children had about a 50 percent increase in risk of
Frequent conflicts also were linked to an increased risk of dying.
Participants who always or often experienced conflicts with their
partners or friends had more than double the risk of dying, and if
they argued with neighbors, the risk more than tripled.
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Having conflicts or worries and demands, and not being part of the
labor force was linked to a risk of death about 4.5 times that of a
person without those problems.
“I think it really adds to our broader understanding of the
influence of relationships, not only on our overall health, but on
our longevity - how long we actually live,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad
told Reuters Health.
Holt-Lunstad, a psychology researcher at Brigham Young University in
Provo, Utah, was not involved in the study.
“There are a couple of other studies that have shown that negativity
in relationships actually is associated with greater risk of
mortality, and this study looks specifically across different types
of relationships as well and also looks at the gender effect which
adds to our understanding,” she said.
Hold-Lunstad explained that just like exercise and eating a healthy
diet is good for health, fostering the positive aspects of a
relationship can be protective.
“But not all relationships are equal - we need to be careful about
the negative aspects as well,” she said.
Holt-Lunstad doesn’t want people to get the impression from this
study that ending all imperfect relationships is the right thing to
“We know that social isolation is bad for us as well,” she said.
“They’re probably both bad and that’s why it might be important to
foster the positive aspects rather than just focusing on cutting
people out of your life.”
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, online May 8, 2104.
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