PhotoFinding a partner whose views and opinions are perfectly in line with ours is unlikely. Even the most compatible couples may find themselves in a heated argument from time to time.

But while arguing can be a healthy way for committed couples to communicate, experts say the way you argue could actually determine what type of health problem you'll experience later in life. 

Do you close yourself off from your partner, or do you dive headfirst into the argument? Either way, you could be setting yourself up for an undesirable ailment.

‘Stonewalling’ Vs. Sudden outbursts

How you react during a conflict may predict certain health outcomes, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern University.

The decade-long study finds that those who shut down emotionally in an argument may be at an increased risk for a bad back or stiff muscles, while people prone to sudden outbursts of anger may experience cardiovascular problems later in life.

"Our findings reveal a new level of precision in how emotions are linked to health, and how our behaviors over time can predict the development of negative health outcomes," UC Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson, senior author of the study, said in a statement.

Study details

The study, published recently in the journal Emotion, looked at how people responded to their partner during an argument. Researchers tracked displays of anger in each of the 156 middle-aged participants.

Signs of “stonewalling” included a stiff face, rigid neck muscles, and avoidance of eye contact. This style of confrontation, marked by “away” behavior, was found to predict muscle tension later in life.

Spouses who tended to display more overt anger responses were at greater risk of developing chest pain, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems over time.

The study, which was based on 20 years of data, controlled for such factors as age, education, exercise, smoking, alcohol use, and caffeine consumption.

Fighting fair 

Neither of the above styles of confrontation are necessarily healthy for a relationship. So how can you fight fair when an argument arises? 

  • Don't fight to "win." Instead of fighting to be "right," fight for your relationship. The goal of maintaining a stable, healthy relationship should come first, helping to pave the way for open and honest communication.
  • Speak in a non-confrontational way. Start by sharing an emotion, then share the thoughts that gave way to the emotion. Next, share a fact that you know to be true. And finally, state what you want.
  • Respond, don't react. Steer clear of statements beginning with "you never" or "you always." Recognize that you have the power to change the direction of the argument and take responsibility for your reactions. This can help ensure communication stays healthy. 

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