Close relationships — and whether your experiences within those relationships are positive or negative — could influence your physical health.
New research found that the way you feel about your close relationships may affect the way your body functions.
“Both positive and negative experiences in our relationships contribute to our daily stress, coping and physiology, like blood pressure and heart rate reactivity,” said lead study author Brian Don, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “Additionally, it’s not just how we feel about our relationships overall that matters; the ups and downs are important, too.”
While smaller studies have examined the connection between relationship conflict or satisfaction with stress levels and blood pressure, this study looked at the effects of positive and negative relationship experiences on the body.
To do this, just over 4,000 participants completed daily check-ins using their smartphone or smartwatch over a three-week time period. This provided assessments of their blood pressure, heart rate, stress levels and coping.
Every three days, the participants also shared their reflections on the positive and negative experiences within their closest relationships.
Those who had more positive experiences, on average, reported lower stress, better coping and lower systolic blood pressure reactivity, leading to better physiological functioning in daily life.
Daily ups and downs in negative relationship experiences were especially predictive of outcomes like stress, coping and systolic blood pressure, according to the study.
The findings were published online March 27 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic, relationships have been facing unprecedented challenges, turbulence and change,” Don noted in a journal news release. “What this means is that the COVID pandemic may have health implications not just because of the virus itself, but also indirectly as a result of the impact it has on people’s relationships.”
The study isn’t proof that relationship experiences have physiological effects, the authors said. Experimental studies would be needed to show cause, Don explained.
He also suggested researchers in the future should look beyond outcomes like blood pressure and heart rate reactivity.
“It would be useful to examine other physiological states, such as neuroendocrine or sympathetic nervous system responses as outcomes of daily positive and negative relationship experiences, which may reveal different patterns of associations,” Don said.
Northwestern Medicine has more on healthy relationships.
SOURCE: Social Psychological and Personality Science, news release, March 27, 2023
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