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Some Relationships Can Make You Sick

Mixed Feelings in Relationships Raise Blood Pressure

WebMD Health News

July 29, 2003 -- There may be some truth to the phrase "love can make you sick." A new study shows having relationships with people whom you have mixed feelings for can drive up your blood pressure

"The conventional wisdom is that stress is bad for our health, and that personal relationships are good because social support helps us deal with our stress," says Julianne Holt-Lundstad, assistant professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, in a news release. "But some relationships can cause interpersonal stress, so we can't just lump all relationships together."

Her study appears in the July issue of Health Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

Researchers had 102 healthy people wear concealed blood pressure monitors for three days. The volunteers pressed a button about five minutes into every social interaction to record their blood pressure. In addition, they kept diaries of whom they interacted with each day and answered questions about their relationships.

The findings showed that having mixed feelings raised blood pressure more than having outright feelings of hostility.

Mixed Feelings Cause Higher Blood Pressure Than Hostility

"When you're interacting with those you feel aversive or negative toward, these people are predictable and you will either avoid them or you can discount them because you know what to expect from them," Holt-Lunstad explains. "But for a person you feel both positive and negative toward, there could be hope and an expectation for something positive, and then when you don't get the support you wanted, this can be very distressing."

There was another twist to the report. It shows that there are benefits to having close family relationships, even if a family member upsets you sometimes. Researchers say even when people have negative feelings toward family their blood pressures don't rise as much as when they have negative interactions with other people. This plays into the theory that people with strong family relationships live longer and have a better quality of life.

Researchers even compared relationships on the job. They found work relationships were viewed more negatively than interaction with non-work relationships.

Researchers say they hope their findings will help people make wiser choices in their relationships, making it possible for them to cut down on stress levels as a result.

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