Every couple has conflict, and new research from UT Austin finds that having good friends and family members to turn to alleviates the stress of everyday conflict between partners. In fact, the study found social networks may protect against health problems brought about by tension between spouses.
In a paper published this September in the online edition of Social Psychological and Personality Science, UT’s Lisa Neff and other researchers in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences found that “spouses who reported being more satisfied with the availability of friends and family, whom they knew they could connect with during times of marital conflict, experienced conflict as less physiologically stressful.”
The paper is the first to look at the link between cortisol levels and marital conflicts. The research suggests a strong correlation between solid social relationships and lower risk factors for weight gain, insomnia, depression and even heart disease.
“We found that having a satisfying social network buffers spouses from the harmful physiological effects of everyday marital conflicts,” says Neff, an associate professor. “Maintaining a few good friends is important to weathering the storms of your marriage.”
The overall number of friends and family members didn’t seem to affect couples’ ability to handle conflicts nearly as much as the quality of those outside relationships. Neff and her colleagues found that people who have even a few close friends or family members experienced lower levels of stress when marital conflicts arose.