Watch CBSN Live

A Bad Marriage Can Make You Sick

New research shows that arguing with your spouse or partner may do more than emotional harm — it can affect the physical healing process, too.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says researchers at Ohio State University has been looking at the effects of stress on the immune system for years.

They've designed a system that wounds the body by creating blisters on the arm. Using what they call blister chambers, the researchers carefully control the wounds, and monitor the blisters' healing by taking samples of the body's biological immune response and chemicals involved in the healing process, Senay explains.

A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry looks at 42 couples who've been married an average of 12 years. The blister chamber was administered twice during two months. The first time, the couple discussed a supportive, positive topic. But the second time, they were urged to talk about an area of disagreement with an emotional element to it.

The researchers found the stress of arguing for a half-hour slowed the body's ability to heal from their wounds by one day. If the couple's relationship was routinely hostile, the delay in that healing process could double.

The researchers say sustained higher-than-normal levels of certain immune system chemicals called cytokines have been linked long-term inflammation implicated in a variety of illnesses, including heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, Alzheimer's disease, and periodontal disease.

The researchers add that the findings provide important recommendations for patients facing surgery, and show why it's important for people to be psychologically prepared for surgery. They suggest there's now enough evidence for hospitals to implement stress-reducing strategies before surgery. Such stress reduction techniques might lead to shorter hospital stays and a reduced risk of infections among patients, Senay says.

Incidentally, she says the scarring from the blisters was minimal and, as she put it, all in the name of science.