How Bad Relationships Affect Your Health

Troubled woman, husband in background

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You may already know that relationships are good for your health, longevity and life expectancy. In general, that's a true statement, except when a relationship is bad. Anyone who's been through a nasty divorce, dealt with difficult parents or children, or had a "crazy" friend will tell you that not all relationships are good for your health. We all have at least one person in our lives whose only function seems to be creating stress and problems. That has to have some kind of impact on our well-being, right?

What Research Tells Us

Researchers were able to measure relationship quality in a study of 9,000 men and women in the British Civil Service. The participants were surveyed about their relationships and the different negative aspects that exist in their close relationships. Participants were also closely monitored for health problems.

Those who reported experiencing more negative aspects in their close relationships had a 34 percent increase in the risk of developing heart problems, even after taking weight, social support, and other factors into consideration. 34 percent: That’s a pretty substantial increase.

Another study by the Portland State University Institute on Aging surveyed more than 650 adults over 2 years and found that prolonged conflict with other people was strongly associated with lower self-rated health and more health issues. Any kind of stress, whether it's due to a lousy relationship with a lousy person or a demanding job, has a remarkable impact on the efficacy of the immune system.

What Happens When a Bad Relationship Goes Unacknowledged

Suppressing your feelings is unhealthy, especially when those feelings are anger or resentment. Some research suggests that couples tend to die younger when one partner suppresses their anger; relationships in which both partners suppress their anger have the worst longevity.

In some relationships, one person might be completely dissatisfied, while the other person is completely unaware of an issue. Conflict is pretty much unavoidable, but resolving it properly can repair a relationship.

How to Handle Bad Relationships

Interacting with your friends and family is a good thing. It increases your life expectancy and protects your brain, in addition to a multitude of other benefits. But interacting with some of your less desirable friends and family members - you know who I'm talking about - can literally make you less healthy.

Do your best to maximize the amount of time spent with the friends and family you enjoy being around, and minimizing your interactions with those who aren't as pleasant. You can do this simply by avoiding people who bring negativity into your life. Unfortunately, these people can't always be avoided, particularly if they are family. In that case, use relaxation techniques to let go of stress after encountering these people and learn how to manage your interactions with them actively so they have less of an impact on your health and life.

Conflict might seem like a relationship kiss of death, but it can actually improve a relationship. That is, if it's resolved effectively. Unresolved conflict is bad, but a botched attempt at reaching resolution is even worse. How you choose to resolve conflict will affect any relationship in which you're involved.

These conflict management skills will help you resolve conflict on your own in a mature and healthy way. Sometimes conflict is deep-rooted, in cases like divorce. If you're dealing with extreme conflict, you might want to seek couples counseling or individual therapy.

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Article Sources

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  • Harburg, E.; Kaciroti, N.; Gleiberman, L.; Schork, M. A.; Julius, M. Marital Pair Anger Coping Types May Act as an Entity to Affect Mortality: Preliminary Findings from a Prospective Study. Journal of Family Communication, January 2008.
  • Newsom JT, Mahan TL, Rook KS, Krause N. Stable Negative Social Exchanges and Health.​ ​Health Psychology, January 2008.
  • Roberto De Vogli, PhD, MPH; Tarani Chandola, DPhil; Michael Gideon Marmot, PhD, FRCP. Negative Aspects of Close Relationships and Heart Disease. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(18):1951-1957.