A brand-new study has added fuel to the argument that men are actually far more affected by relationship conflict than women. Researchers at Penn State found that men who had fights with their significant other were significantly more stressed than their female better halves, who tended to find the fights “reassuring.” Say what?
It’s important to note that the study subjects were 138 couples (all heterosexual) expecting their first baby. Researchers videotaped the couples during two six-minute conversations in which they discussed non-relationship-related topics with each other. Then they were asked to talk about household problems, like money. Saliva samples to measure the stress hormone cortisol were taken throughout the interview. LiveScience reports:
Greater hostility in the conflict discussion seemed to boost levels of cortisol in men, the researchers found, but such a pattern was not observed in women. (The team noted that women’s cortisol levels are already high during pregnancy, which could explain those results.)
Men who reported an already high level of anxiety were slower to recover after a conflict discussion, while women with high anxiety had an easier time bouncing back from a particularly heated conversation, the researchers found. The same was true for women who reported high levels of chronic arguments in their relationship.
Interestingly, “anxious” women actually experienced more stress when the fights were less emotionally brutal.
“For generally anxious men, more expressed hostility was also linked to more persistence of this elevated stress,” Penn State researcher Mark Feinberg said in a statement. “On the other hand, generally anxious women experienced relatively more prolonged stress when there were lower levels of negativity and hostility expressed during the discussion.”
Researchers think that the discussions — even though they’re negative — could reassure women that they’re connecting with their spouse.
So what should a Lockhorns-esque couple to take away from all of this?
“This may be particularly important for women during the vulnerable period of their first pregnancy,” Feinberg said in a statement. “It would be useful for couples to understand that they need to carefully balance the apparently beneficial effects that discussing difficult relationship topics had for some women with the apparently negative effects it has on some men.”
We think: These findings might also explain why some men — newborn on the way or not — go out of their way to avoid a fight, either by lying or walking on eggshells around their lady.
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