Richard G. Petty, MD

Marital Conflict and Hardening of the Arteries

The Bible contains at least three references to the undesirability of hardening one’s heart:

“And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” — Exodus 4: 21

The BBC is carrying a report of a paper presented to the American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Denver Colorado. Researchers from the University of Utah have added another piece of evidence that marital conflict bad for you. In a previous posting I discussed the evidence that marital conflict can compromise the immune system. Now we have confirmation that marital conflict can also have an adverse effect on the coronary arteries, leading to hardening and calcification of these crucial blood vessels.

The researchers studied 150 married couples, with at least one partner in their sixties. None of the people in the study had ever been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Each couple was asked to pick a topic that caused disagreements in their marriage: topics included money, disagreements about in-laws, children, vacations and household chores. They were then videoed while they discussed the topic, and the videos were watched by psychology students who coded comments as friendly or hostile, submissive, or dominant or controlling. Cardiac scans were then done to look for signs of disease.

Wives who made the most hostile comments during the discussion had a greater degree of calcification of their coronary arteries, indicating the build up of plaque in these crucial arteries. It is not just the behavior of one person: the highest levels of calcification were found in women who behaved in a hostile and unfriendly way and who were interacting with husbands who were also hostile and unfriendly. Husbands who were more controlling, or who were more dominating, or whose wives were controlling or dominating, were also more likely to have more severe hardening of their arteries than other men.

These findings are in line with everything that I have been writing about looking at all the five dimensions or domains of a person: physical, psychological, social, subtle and spiritual. If you ask most people what they are doing to protect themselves against heart disease, they will probably talk about not smoking, taking exercise and healthy eating. That response is correct, but inadequate. Toxic relationships are just as dangerous, as are certain psychological response styles. For many years it was thought that the so-called “Type A personality,” was a risk factor for coronary artery disease, but research has shown that it is just two aspects of this response style that are responsible for the increased risk of coronary artery disease: anger and hostility.

Disagreements are bound to come up in any relationship, but the way that we communicate gives us a great opportunity to do something healthier for both people. In my book Healing, Meaning and Purpose I discuss the wonderful work of Riane Eisler, and I talk a lot about methods of transforming relationships from an unhealthy dominator model into a healthy partnership model.

Particularly if you are in a relationship, I urge you to take some action today to move towards greater heart health.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.


One Response to “Marital Conflict and Hardening of the Arteries”
  1. Psychiatric Resource Forum says:

    Health Monitoring and Disease Prevention

    The sad news of the death from lung cancer of Dana Reeve, the widow of Christopher Reeve, at the age of only 44, reminded me to think again about the importance of screening. She had never smoked, and screening for

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