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Suppressing Anger Shortens Life

December 2008 - Research from the University of Michigan published earlier this year in the Journal of Family Communication suggests that a good fight with your partner may be better for your health than suppressing your feelings. Couples in which both partners suppressed their anger when unfairly attacked by the other died earlier than those in relationships where one or both expressed their anger and resolved underlying conflict.

Researchers studied 192 couples over a 17 year period (1971-1988) and placed them in one of four categories: both partners communicated their anger; one expressed while the other suppressed (and vice versa); and both suppressed their anger. When both spouses suppressed their anger, earlier death was twice as likely compared to all other categories.

Lead author Ernest Harburg, professor emeritus in the school of public health and psychology department said:

"Comparisons between couples in which both people suppress their anger, and the three other types of couples, are very intriguing. When couples get together, one of their main jobs is reconciliation about conflict. Usually nobody is trained to do this. If they have good parents, they can imitate, that's fine, but usually the couple is ignorant about the process of resolving conflict."

"The key matter is, when the conflict happens, how do you resolve it? When you don't, if you bury your anger, and you brood on it and you resent the other person or the attacker, and you don't try to resolve the problem, then you're in trouble."

Preliminary analysis shows that there had been 13 deaths among the group of 26 couples in which both suppressed their anger (one partner in 27 per cent and both in 23 per cent). There had been 41 deaths among the remaining 166 couples (one partner in 19 per cent and both in 6 per cent). Researchers adjusted for age, smoking, weight, blood pressure, bronchial problems, breathing, and cardiovascular risk. They are currently collecting 30-year follow-up data.

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