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Ways to Reduce Hostility—and Health Risks—in Your Marriage

Ways to Reduce Hostility—and Health Risks—in Your Marriage

High tension in a marriage can escalate health risks like inflammation and leaky gut.

In the 1997 NBA finals, Michael Jordan scored 38 points—all in a day’s work for the superstar, you might say. Not quite. Jordan had the flu and was vomiting right up until game time. But he was determined that his leaky gut wouldn’t harm his team’s chance for victory. That ability to avoid damaging the team he loved, well that’s just plain gutsy!

But a fighting spirit isn’t always a good thing, especially when it turns to hostility between married folks. Then it can cause a leaky gut that will keep you out of the game.

Researchers from Ohio State University have found that couples who are actively hostile to one another cause bacteria in their gut to move through the intestinal wall—leaky gut—into their bloodstream, where the microbes trigger inflammation and disease. And when a hostile spouse is also depressed, health risks escalate.

Luckily, there are ways to defuse hostility—and protect your health. The Cleveland Clinic’s Anger Management and Treatment Program suggests:

  • Seeking treatment from a professional who’s trained to teach anger management and assertiveness skills. Assertiveness lets you express feelings calmly and directly.
  • Using deep breathing and positive self-talk to interrupt your cycle of hostility. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm; slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "relax" or "take it easy." And to stay aware of your stress, track your stress levels on the Sharecare app for iOS and Android.
  • Practice good listening skills. Listening can facilitate trusting feelings between people. This trust can help you deal with potentially hostile emotions.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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