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Feb 08, 2014 02:01 AM EST

Ambivalent Support Increases Premature Death in Couples, Study

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Couples, who tend to receive little support from their partners, are more likely to develop heart disease, according to a University of Utah study.

Researchers said that when partners perceive the support they get from each other as ambivalent (sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting.), their levels of coronary artery calcification tend to go higher. The higher levels of artery calcification lead to diseased arteries and increase the risk of premature death.

 "There is a large body of research suggesting that our relationships are predictors of mortality rates, especially from cardiovascular disease," Bert Uchino, a psychological scientist, said in a press release. "But most prior work has ignored the fact that many relationships are characterised by both positive and negative aspects - in other words, ambivalence."

Dr Uchino and his team colleagues wanted to find out how relationships affect cardiovascular health. For the study, the researchers asked 136 older couples, with an average age of 63, to fill out questionnaires based on overall marriage quality and perceived levels of support from their spouse during times when they required support, advice, or a favour.

The researchers found that about 30 per cent of participants received positive support, whereas 70 per cent reported ambivalent support.

When the researchers used a CT scanner to observe the participants' coronary arteries, they found elevated artery calcification levels in couples, where both partners regarded each other as ambivalent. On the other hand, reduced levels were observed in couples, where one of the partner viewed the other one to be ambivalent.

 'The findings suggest that couples who have more ambivalent views of each other actively interact or process relationship information in ways that increase their stress or undermine the supportive potential in the relationship,' said Dr Uchino. 'This, in turn, may influence their cardiovascular disease risk.'

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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