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Relationship conflict may be linked to early death, study says

Published: Thursday, May 29 2014 5:15 a.m. MDT

Relationship conflicts, studies say, may be linked to an earlier death.

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A Danish study says that relationship conflicts involving family, friends and even neighbors may be linked to premature death.

The study was published in May in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"Stressful social relations are associated with increased mortality risk among middle-aged men and women for a variety of different social roles. Those outside the labour force and men seem especially vulnerable to exposure," the researchers, from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, wrote.

“I think it really adds to our broader understanding of the influence of relationships, not only on our overall health, but on our longevity — how long we actually live,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a researcher at Brigham Young University who had no part in the study, told Reuters Health.

The Danish researchers examined relationships with partners, children, other family, friends and neighbors, in that order, using baseline data from the Danish Longitudinal Study on Work, Unemployment and Health. The database included 9,875 men and women ages 36 to 52. They then crosslinked it to the Danish Cause of Death Registry and followed the subjects for 11 years, finding that by that time, 422 were no longer living. The most common cause of death was cancer — which accounted for about half — but some died of heart disease, liver failure, accident and even suicide.

“Conflicts, especially, were associated with higher mortality risk regardless of whom was the source of the conflict,” the researchers wrote. “Worries and demands were only associated with mortality risk if they were related to partner or children."

"Frequent worries/demands from partner or children were associated with 50 to 100 percent increased mortality risk. Frequent conflicts with any type of social relation were associated with two to three times increased mortality risk."

"Stop reading this immediately and go tidy up all your relationships. If they are beyond repair, sever them completely. Then make a list of all the things you’re going to do with the extra life you just gained. If you don’t make a list, you’ll never do them," wrote James Hamblin in The Atlantic.

Holt-Lunstad noted that other studies have indicated "negativity in relationships actually is associated with greater risk of mortality." But she said the answer is not cutting off those relationships. Rather, she suggested, people should focus on improving their positive aspects.

Hamblin's article noted that "the association accounted for variables like cohabitation, chronic physical and mental disorders, depressive symptoms, and emotional-social support. Worries emanating from close relationships like partners or kids were more strongly related to mortality than worries from those more distant. But still, even if you are not overtly trying to kill your neighbor, it would seem that a duplicitous relationship could be ravaging you both."

A Miami Herald article earlier this year reported a link between stress and the six leading causes of death: "According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. And more than 75 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints."

A link between stress and death has been noted for years. In 2000, an article on WebMD.com said, "In one of the first studies to show a link between mental stress and death, researchers at Yale University School of Medicine have found that stress may actually lead to sudden death. The findings are particularly important in people with a history of certain irregular heart rhythms that may already predispose them to sudden death."

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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