THURSDAY, Nov. 7, 2019 (HealthDay News) — There’s a new reason to keep the peace this holiday season: Strained relationships with family may be worse for your health than trouble with a spouse or significant other, new research suggests.
Parents, siblings and extended family members appear to affect your well-being, even into middle age and beyond, the study found.
“Family relationships matter for health,” said lead author Sarah Woods, director of behavioral health at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Surprisingly, relationships with a spouse or partner didn’t seem to affect health outcomes. These findings run counter to previous studies, and Woods said even the researchers were astonished.
“That doesn’t mean intimate partnerships don’t matter,” she said. “Our hypothesis is that relationships with family members are longer than relationships with intimate partners. You come from that family of origin, and you can’t divorce your parents or siblings.”
About 2,800 people participated in the study. Their average age at the start was 45, and 91% were white.
During the study, which ran from 1995 to 2014, participants answered questions three times about family and intimate partner strain and support.
Examples of questions included, “Not including your spouse or partner, how often do members of your family criticize you?” and “How much can you rely on [your family] for help if you have a serious problem?”
Some examples of questions asked about spouses or partners were, “How often does your spouse or partner argue with you?” and “How much does your spouse or partner appreciate you?”
Participants were asked to rate their overall health from excellent to poor at each phase of the study.
They were also asked about their chronic health conditions and common concerns, such as stomach troubles, headaches, backaches and stroke.
The more strain people had in their family relationships, the greater the number of chronic conditions they reported, Woods and colleagues found. Overall health was also rated poorer when people had more family strain.