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July 1, 2020

Nitpicking can kill your partner

National

July 1, 2020

PENNSYLVANIA: It’s not always easy to bite your tongue in a long-term relationship. But pointing out your other half’s faults could send them to an early grave, a study suggests.

It found older people who reported higher levels of criticism in their partnerships were significantly more likely to die within the following five years. In fact, those who were criticised the most were more than twice as likely to be dead when researchers followed up with them half a decade later than those who were criticised the least, reported international media.

The effect was the same for men and women alike, and independent of factors such as whether a person had other close family or friends. Lead author Professor Jamila Bookwala said frequent criticism can put damaging stress on the body. “It can be a type of chronic interpersonal stressor, and, just like other chronic stressors, can have a cumulative and enduring negative impact on not only health and well-being – morbidity – but also mortality,” she said.

Professor Bookwala’s team from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania analysed data from 1,734 men and women who had been interviewed for the National Social Life, Health and Ageing Project.

All were aged between 57 and 85, with an average age of 68, and 90 per cent were married. The rest were living together or in an otherwise intimate relationship.

They were asked about their relationships, including how often they felt their partner criticised them. Answers were given on a three-point sliding scale – with one meaning ‘hardly ever or never’, two meaning ‘some of the time’, and three meaning ‘often’. With every unit increase in the response scale, the risk of the person being dead when researchers followed up increased significantly.

“So those who indicated they were criticised “often” had a 44 per cent higher risk of being deceased five years later compared with those who indicated they were criticised “some of the time” and the same is true when comparing those who said they were “hardly ever or never” criticised and those who were criticised sometimes,’ said Professor Bookwala.

“Taking into account the relative increase in risk from least to most criticism, this would mean a 107 per cent increase in mortality risk going from those who the least criticised to those who were most criticised.” The results were analysed in a way that removed other factors that could account for the results, such as participants’ weight, age, use of medication, education level and the size of their family and friendship networks.

The study also analysed the positive aspects of participants’ relationships – feeling they could open up to their partner and rely on them – but these had no effect on the results. Professor Bookwala, whose research is published in the scientific journal Health Psychology, concluded: “Put simply: stop criticising your partner – it can negatively impact their health and how long they’ll live.”