It is possible, new Danish study suggests, to be nagged to death by your spouse.
The study, which tracked nearly 10,000 people from their mid-30s to early 50s for 11 years, found that for both men and women, living in a near-constant state of conflict with their spouse made them twice as likely to die early, with a slightly larger effect for men.
But for man, the risk of dying early was even higher when dealing with "many" demands or worries from a spouse – nearly twice as high as women, the study found. Demanding kids weren't that far behind when it came to affecting mortality. And being unemployed in addition a high-conflict home raised that risk of dying early to more than three times as likely.
Lead author Rikke Lund, a public health researcher at the University of Copenhagen, conceded that some of the behaviour could fall under the category of "nagging," but the study is really capturing the negative toll taken by interpersonal arguments and conflict, especially with those closest to us. For instance, she says, "serious worries" in qualitative interviews related to close relatives being ill or unemployed, or abusing drugs or alcohol. And "demands" related to an imbalance of support – as in when help provided wasn't returned in kind.
So this isn't a nightly squabble about who takes out the garbage. For nagging to take its deathly toll – and before anyone starts laying the blame squarely on shrewish wives – there's a lot more going wrong in a marriage.
One reason the effect of this conflict on women's mortality is lower, other research suggests, may be because they have a wider social circle on which to lean, and may be more likely than men to talk through their problems. Husbands, on the other hand, may have no one to turn to but their wives, who may already be contributing to the conflict in their lives. As well, the study adjusted for employment, emotional support and whether the person was living with a partner, but was unable to account for other factors such as income that might have led to "excessive worry."
Lund suggests that "if conflicts and worries are everyday events, it might be a good idea to seek out help to manage them in a better way."
But is all nagging created equal? There's also evidence to suggest that husbands should be grateful to their gently prodding wives, who may help them socialize more eat better, and visit the doctor more often.
According to a Harvard University medical school article, research "suggests that marriage is truly heartwarming." In a Framingam Offspring Study, scientists found that even taking into account factors such as body fat, smoking and cholesterol, married men had a 46 per cent lower death rate than unmarried men. Compared with widowed and single men, married men, according to a University of Miami study, survived twice as long, on average, with prostate cancer a disease whose outcome is heavily influence by early detection.
If your marriage is lousy – or you have spouses plaguing you with worries and demands – the stress is bad for your health.
But if you're a guy, a little nagging from your spouse doesn't kill you – it may actually help you live longer.