In a study from Ohio State University, researchers discovered that couples who become deeply invested in bad-tempered arguments are likely to suffer from “leaky guts,” a condition that unleashes bacteria into the blood, triggering illness.
“We think this everyday marital distress—at least for some people—is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and, potentially, illness,” Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State Wexner Medical Center said. “Hostility is a hallmark of bad marriages—the kind that lead to adverse physiological changes.”
For the study, 43 married couples were recruited and surveyed based on their relationships. They were videoed for 20 minutes while discussing touchy topics such as money and their in-laws. They took blood samples before and after the discussions.
Couples who demonstrated more hostile reactions to their partner during these observations had higher levels of markers for leaky gut and high levels of inflammation throughout the body. This kind of distress on the body can cause for slow wound healing and may drive up risk for inflammation-related diseases such as depression, heart disease and diabetes, according to the study.
Michael Bailey, a co-author of the study, said, “With leaky gut, the structures that are usually really good at keeping the gunk in our gut—the partially digested food, bacteria and other products—degrade and that barrier becomes less effective.”
Bailey also added that inflammation could contribute to poor mental health as well.
Researchers suggest that those who are currently involved in a hostile marriage undergo major lifestyle changes such as switching up their diet and considering marriage counseling.