People constantly criticised by their partner may have poorer health and a higher risk of early death
- Being hypercritical, demanding, or getting on your partner's nerves can impact their health, even to the extent of affecting their mortality risk, a new study found.
- Being partnered or married is generally associated with lower early mortality rates, but the stress of a controlling relationship may undermine the health benefits of having a partner.
- The researchers interviewed over 3,000 elderly people, of whom nearly 2,000 were in committed relationships.
- They found that people in negative relationships with their partners saw higher rates of early mortality compared to those in positive relationships, especially when isolated from friends and family.
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Nagging, being hypercritical of your partner, and generally annoying your partner are all things most couples want to avoid for the sake of their own happiness. But a new study found that a negative relationship isn't just a thorn in your side, it could worsen your health and even affect your lifespan.
The research, by Lafayette College, involved interviews in 2005, then again in 2010, of more than 3,000 middle-aged and elderly people, of whom nearly 2,000 were in a committed relationship.
The study authors measured the quality of people's relationships by looking at the amount of criticism one received from their partner, the number demands their partners made towards them, and if they generally felt annoyed with their partner - all of which "have been found to be significantly associated with poorer health."
These answers were studied against each person's body mass index (BMI), self-reported health (on a scale of 1 to 5), and the number of medications they took. The researchers also noted which participants had died when they reached the follow-up interviews.
Overall, they found constant criticism from one's partner had the most significant impact on one's quality of health and mortality, compared to demands and feeling annoyed.
Though previous research has linked being partnered to living a longer life, the authors found that, in middle and old age, "relationship quality" had a bigger impact on a person's mortality risk than whether they were in a relationship or not.
Constant criticism can fuel depression, anxiety, stress, and loneliness
The study authors said more research is needed to identify exactly why constant criticism is linked to worse health and mortality, but they have some theories.
A steady stream of negativity can fuel anxiety or depression, and can make it hard for people who've previously struggled with anxiety and depression to recover, because of criticism from their partner. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2012 found even mild cases of anxiety were linked to early death.
Then, there's loneliness: According to the research, the impact of a negative relationship is even worse if the people in question are disconnected from friends and family. That correlates with previous research has also linked loneliness to worse health outcomes and earlier death.
What's more, stress has a very real impact on mortality risk. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, people with more stress and depression were at a higher risk for an earlier death.
"These findings have important clinical implications because they point to the value of developing interventions [like therapy] that target lowering negative aspects of relationship quality with one's spouse or partner, especially as related to criticism within the relationship," researchers Jamila Bookwala and Trent Gaugler wrote.
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