Not all stress is created equal. An argument with your significant other has been found to be by far the most upsetting of all daily stressors. As one patient told me, fighting with his wife in the morning sets a negative tone for the rest of the day. He described it as a dark cloud that hangs over him and follows him around until the issue is resolved.
In addition to taking an emotional toll, there is a physical cost to relationship disharmony. Negative interactions can impact the immune system and cardiovascular function.
A couple’s therapist might encourage a bickering couple to work on conflict resolution and to spend more quality time together. A recent study offers another important way to protect oneself from the harmful effects of conflict: Having good friends.
Researchers at the University of Austin, Texas, asked 105 newlywed couples to keep a daily diary of marital conflict and to complete questionnaires about their social interactions outside of the marriage. The couples provided morning and evening saliva samples so the researchers could measure levels of cortisol, a hormone the body produces in direct association with physiological stress.
The findings indicate that having a few good friends to lean on can buffer against the stress of everyday conflict with one’s partner. Participants with high quality social support experienced lower levels of stress when marital conflicts arose. It is worth noting that the number of friends didn’t impact the couple’s ability to handle conflict—it was the quality of the social interactions that counted. Knowing that someone has your back makes every challenge a little bit easier.
There is a lesson here. If you are in a relationship, don’t forget to make an effort with your friends. Having a shoulder to lean on that is outside of your relationship will enhance your connection with your “one and only.” When there is trouble in paradise, you can turn to your friends to help you weather the storm.
Friends don’t just make life better, they make marriages happier.