Many health experts won’t tell you that married couples can actually prevent the common cold and seasonal flu by reducing the negative behaviors in their marriage.
During the winter months when runny noses, coughs, and fevers are all too common, we’re reminded to wash our hands, avoid contact with sick people, and get a flu shot. Another preventative measure you can take is to increase your positive behaviors toward your spouse.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, who studied married couples’ antibody response to an influenza vaccine, found that people in satisfying marriages had stronger immunity to flu viruses. Researcher Greta Hysi at the University of Tirana in Albania reviewed 40 studies on the effects of marriage on health. She found that higher levels of negativity which contribute to marital dissatisfaction also directly impact a couple’s physical health.
Hysi’s research also included a review of Dr. Gottman’s Love Lab studies, which found higher white blood cell counts in couples that were happily married. This finding is similar to that of Drs. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and and Ronald Glaser at Ohio State University, who found natural killer cells are more effective in fighting off disease in happily married couples.
Finally, researchers Lois Verbrugge and James House of the University of Michigan found an unhappy marriage can increase your chances of getting sick by 35% and even shorten your life by an average of four to eight years!
According to Dr. Gottman, “working briefly on your marriage every day will do more for your health and longevity than working out at a health club.”
The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse
When negative behaviors are allowed to run loose in a marriage, they put both the emotional and physical health of the couple at risk.
Dr. Gottman calls the four most dangerous behaviors in a relationship the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The term is adopted from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Bible where a prophecy reveals the horsemen as signs leading to the end of the world.
It happens daily. Dave and Lisa are caught in cycle of criticism, which is aimed at a person’s character instead of their behavior. It is most often packaged in “you always” or “you never” statements.
Lisa bought Dave a new watch for his birthday. She thought he’d like it. He didn’t.
“I don’t need a watch,” he said. “I use my phone to check the time.”
“You need to check your phone more often. You’re always late to everything. I thought the watch would help.”
“I don’t like watches. I haven’t worn a watch in years. Where have you been? I always have to spell things out for you.”
Dave and Lisa would welcome an occasional critique or complaint from each other instead of constant criticism. This pattern of finding fault causes the victim to feel hurt, rejected, or attacked. They’ve made a habit of calling out each other’s mistakes. In some relationships only one partner engages in criticism. Whether it’s one or both, this negative focus on each other’s flaws and failures paves the way for much darker horsemen.
Jordyn is mean. When she speaks to Rafael, it’s often with disrespect and ridicule.
“You want me to make you dinner? You are so lazy. You expect me to feed you and clean up after you. You come home and turn on the TV and don’t even acknowledge me. You can pick up after yourself.”
Contempt can also be expressed by body language such as eye-rolling.
Contempt is cultivated by long-standing negative thoughts about one’s partner. Frequent criticism serves as evidence that contempt may soon rear its ugly head. The contemptuous spouse feels superior to their partner and openly expresses it in words and actions that leave their spouse feeling despised and worthless.
Austin and Chris blame each other for most of their problems.
Austin: “We got a late notice on our phone bill. You forgot to pay it again.”
Chris: “I didn’t get the statement. You didn’t put it with the bills.”
Austin: “You know we get a monthly phone bill. If you didn’t see it, you need to look for it. I put it on the desk!”