Marital conflicts can take a toll on your health, but having even a few close friends and family members to turn to can help reduce the stress associated with such conflicts, new research suggests.
Social networks may help provide protection against health problems brought about by ordinary tension between spouses, said the study published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
“We found that having a satisfying social network buffers spouses from the harmful physiological effects of everyday marital conflicts,” said Lisa Neff, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin in the US. “Maintaining a few good friends is important to weathering the storms of your marriage,” Neff said.
The research looked at 105 newlywed couples who kept daily records of marital conflict in their home environment and completed questionnaires about the number, quality and characteristics of their connections with friends and family.
In addition, the couples participating in the study collected morning and evening saliva samples for cortisol testing every day for six days. Cortisol levels over the course of the day are a measure of the stress response.
The overall number of friends and family members that study participants reported having did not appear to affect couples’ ability to handle conflicts nearly as much as the quality of those outside relationships. The researchers found that people who reported having even a few close friends or family members to talk to outside of their marriage experienced lower levels of stress when marital conflicts arose.
“Even everyday conflict takes a toll on people physiologically,” Neff said. “But we found that the association between marital conflict and cortisol responses completely disappears when people are happy and satisfied with their available social network,” Neff added.