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Research: Positive Communication Leads To Better Immunity & Emotional Health

By October 23, 2023Blog
Research: Positive Communication Leads To Better Immunity & Emotional Health - Relationship Coach, Sam Owen

Three Ways Your Communication Affects You

When you love your spouse, you want them to be healthy and live a long life. So to help ensure that happens, you’ll want to take this research on board in your marital communications going forward.

Researchers set out to look at how spouses’ typical communication styles day-to-day affected husbands’ and wives’ biological health, emotional health and the health of their relationship [1].

And it turns out, all three are negatively affected by a particular communication pattern.


Communication Patterns That Leave Physical And Figurative Wounds

Researchers conducted the study with 42 married couples (84 participants).

They had their blood drawn to measure their baseline interleukin-6 (as an indicator of either acute or chronic inflammation within their body); were asked to report on their typical marital communication patterns; received suction blister wounds (so that their body’s immunity/healing process could be measured); and were asked to hold marital discussions, immediately after which they were asked to rate their own emotions plus evaluate the tone and outcome of the discussion.

The researchers also recorded and coded participants’ communications for positive and negative behaviours, and measured the healing of their wounds over a period of 12 days.

The marital communication patterns being compared were:

  • mutually constructive patterns,
  • mutual avoidance patterns,
  • demand/withdraw patterns (husband demands/wife withdraws or vice versa).

The researchers describe the demand/withdraw pattern as occurring ‘when one partner criticizes, nags, or makes demands to change, discuss, or resolve an issue. In turn, the other partner responds by avoiding the discussion, becoming defensive, or withdrawing during the discussion.’

And the findings are insightful and a wake up call.


Key Findings

When couples reported that they tend to use more demand/withdraw or mutual avoidance patterns, they (a) had higher baseline interleukin-6 (reflecting greater inflammation), (b) had slower wound healing, (c) had more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions, and (d) gave poorer discussion evaluations.

On the flip side, when couples reported typically using more mutually constructive patterns they also tended evaluate their discussions in the laboratory more positively.

So more negative and less positive communication patterns in couples’ day-to-day lives, resulted in wounds that healed more slowly, less positive emotions, perceiving their lab discussion more negatively, and displaying more negative than positive communication behaviours in the lab, too.

So if how you and your spouse communicate is best described as one of you making demands and the other withdrawing or both of your avoiding conversations, then it may be taking a toll on your physical health, and emotional health, and the health of your relationship. Time to do something about it?


Good Communication Is Vital So What’s Stopping You?

Stress and worry about relationship issues don’t just dissipate. They stick around until you do something about them. And suppressing emotions is really bad for your health. So bad, in fact, that emotion suppression can lead to earlier death [2]. We’ll call that wake up call number two.

Relationship problems also don’t just disappear on their own. You know they just get worse when left unresolved, or worse, unacknowledged. If you think communicating about the issues is scary, do you think dealing with a relationship breakdown will be less scary?

Or perhaps you’re secretly hoping for a relationship breakdown in which case, what’s stopping you from walking away now? Are you in an abusive relationship and so you’re unsure of how to exit safely, or are you using your partner for financial or other perks, or are you afraid of being alone, or is it because you have children together and want to maintain the stability for them? Or is it some other reason?

Whatever the reason, find the solution so that everyone can be happy.


Questions To Ask Yourself To Improve Your Communication

If you want to improve or save your relationship (so long as the relationship is not abusive) and improve your biological health, emotions, and your relationship satisfaction, here are some questions for you to answer to help you communicate in a mutually constructive way rather than where one or both of you is avoidant.

Write down these questions and your answers. The answers may not come all at once so make it a work-in-progress.

  1. What are the main issues that you need to resolve in order for you to have a healthy, happy relationship?
  2. How long has each issue been present?
  3. What factors have stopped you from dealing with each issue head on?
  4. What side-effects have you noticed as a result of leaving these issues unresolved?
  5. What would your relationship be like once these relationship challenges have been resolved?
  6. What manageable steps can you take to resolve these relationship problems, starting now?


Ask For What You Want And Need

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from one of my self-help books, Happy Relationships:

‘You must ask for what you want and need, and:

◊ if they don’t give it, you need to find out why;
◊ if they don’t want to give it, you need to find out why;
◊ if they can’t give it, you need to decide if you can be without it.

‘The other person should be asking the same questions of you.’

So do what you need to do so that you’ll both benefit in the end, even though the journey getting there might be challenging, the fruits of your labour will be sweet.



1. Shrout, M. R., Renna, M. E., Madison, A. A., Malarkey, W. B., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2023). Marital negativity’s festering wounds: The emotional, immunological, and relational toll of couples’ negative communication patterns. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 149, 105989.

2. Chapman,B. P., Fiscella, K., Kawachi, I. Duberstein, P., Muennig, P. (2013). Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 75(4): 381–385.