Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stress in relationships differs for men and women

It is unlikely to go through a relationship without ever getting into a fight. Most couples occasionally have their disagreements, although some fight more intensely than others. Because men and women are quite different in their behaviour and their way of dealing with stress, it is interesting to find out how both groups respond to stressful situations within a relationship. To this end, researchers from Penn State University set out to discover how men and women respond to certain situations when they are expecting their first child, which can be regarded as a stressful situation.

A total of 138 couples were observed and video-taped in the study, all of them expecting their first child on short notice. During the sessions, the scientists recorded two 6-minute discussions involving topics that had nothing to do with their relationship. Thereafter, the couples were asked to discuss three separate issues they encountered in their relationship. Saliva samples were taken prior to starting the problem discussion, right after, and 20 minutes after the sessions finished, the latter enabling analysis on stress recovery.

For men, the level of stress they encountered, measured from the levels of the stress hormone cortisol derived from the saliva samples, related to the degree of perceived hostility during the conflicts: an increase in hostility marked an increase in stress. Curiously, the stress level in the pregnant women did not rise with an increasing degree of hostility. Additionally, women with high levels of stress were also found to recover faster after the conflict had ceased, when compared to men with higher levels of stress.

While the study might not be very useful, it is interesting to see that men apparently have a hard time dealing with conflicts that involve a certain degree of hostility. The researchers claim that their study is important because stress is linked to negative health effects for the unborn child. But then again, we already knew that stress is not very healthy and is best avoided.

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