Arguments with those we love not only hurt in the moment they occur, but they also have long-lasting impacts on our health and well-being. Here in this study, we see measurable changes in the healing of skin ulcers when people argue for just 30 minutes. For those where there is even more hostility in general, wound healing is delayed even further.
By Gaia Vince,
The stress a married couple experiences during a 30-minute argument can delay their bodies’ ability to heal a wound by at least a day, according to a new study.
And if the couples’ relationship endures routine hostility, the delay can be even longer. There could be important implications for people suffering from chronic wounds, such as skin ulcers.
“We knew that chronic stress causes reduced immunity, but to find that an argument of just half an hour has such a profound effect on wound healing is quite shocking,” says Patricia Price at the Wound Healing Research Unit at Cardiff University, Wales, who was not involved in the study.
Researchers at Ohio State University College of Medicine in the US inflicted small wounds on 42 otherwise healthy married couples, whose ages ranged from 22 to 77.
Each partner was wounded on the forearm with a punch biopsy device, which scrapes off eight patches of the skin’s surface, each 8 millimetres in diameter, to leave small open sores. Before a blister could form, another device was used to create a protective bubble over each wound from which the researchers could extract the fluids that normally fill such blisters.
In the first experiment, each of the partners in turn was asked to talk about an aspect of themselves that they wanted to change, while the other was instructed to contribute with encouraging comments. The discussions were designed to be conflict-free.
In a second session, a couple of months later, each partner was asked to raise a contentious issue within their relationship, such as money or in-laws. Their stress was measured using blood tests and questionnaires.
Most of the couples’ wounds had healed within five days of the first session. But the 30-minute arguments in the second session caused a day’s delay in healing.
Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, who led the research with her husband, also found that couples who had higher levels of hostility towards each other took an average of six days to heal after the first session, and seven days after the second. “Wounds on the hostile couples healed at only 60% of the rate of couples considered to have low hostility,” she said. Hostility was measured using video analysis and questionnaires.
The fluid samples showed differences too. Those in hostile relationships had marked differences in levels of a key immune chemical called interleukin-6 (IL-6), a cytokine that helps balance the immune response. Increased levels stimulate the healing process, but too much appears to overwhelm it.
High-hostility couples had an overly sensitised IL-6 response, the researchers found. Their normal IL-6 levels were generally too low, but following conflict they produced an exaggerated response.
Price comments: “This study was carried out on healthy people – a lot of them young. So imagine the effect on people who are elderly or already immunosuppressed. Some wounds, such as leg ulceration associated with diabetic foot disease, can take months to heal and the implications of stress for these people could be enormous,” she told New Scientist, adding that a psychological component may be required for the treatment of wounds.
Kiecolt-Glaser points out that marital fights that occur in private will be more extreme than those studied in the lab, so the consequences for wound healing could be even greater.
Journal reference: Archives of General Psychiatry (vol 62, p 1377)
Medical doctors look at chemical and biological markers like skin healing to measure the impact of arguments. Those of us who are energy practitioners note that there is a palpable shift in the entire system when someone even THINKS a negative thought! If you don’t believe me, have someone you feel a connection to let you hold their feet or ankles. Have them think either a positive or negative thought while you quietly listen with your eyes closed, and see how accurately you can tell what they are thinking….
So if a single thought shifts the system, how much of an impact do repeated, focused negative thoughts? By the law of attraction, we know. That which we focus upon gets bigger in our lives. Focus on arguments, and they become big enough to disrupt the entire healing process.
Can we neutralize the effects of arguments? Yes, I believe we can. If after these participants finished their arguments they went through even 10 minutes of EFT tapping on the specific emotions until the negative energy was soothed, I believe we’d see that the healing time would be reduced, and would be either no longer than the control or perhaps even shorter. Why shorter? Well, there has to be some physioemotional impact to the body of having these blisters created. By soothing the system immediately after a trauma—whether the trauma is smaller like a few blisters and a 30 minute argument or huge like a life-altering accident or crime—any continuing disruption of the body’s natural healing power is removed. That means… we heal as optimally as our body possibly can.