Having frequent arguments with partners, friends or relatives can increase the risk of death in middle-age, say Danish researchers.
Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, they said men and those not in work were most vulnerable.
Dealing with worries and demands from close family was also linked to a higher mortality risk, the study said.
An individual’s personality and ability to deal with stress is likely to play a role in the findings.
Although the research team, from the University of Copenhagen, calculated that constant arguing increased a man or woman’s mortality risk by two or three times the normal rate, they could not fully explain the factors behind it.
Previous research suggests people with high levels of anxiety and demands from partners and children, and those who often argue with close family members, could be at a higher risk of heart disease and strokes.
Past studies also suggest that a good social support network and a wide network of friends have a positive impact on health, while personality determines, to a large extent, how we perceive and react to social situations and relations.
In this study, the researchers said physiological reactions to stress, such as high blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, were most likely to explain the increased mortality risk.
The study said: “Men respond to stressors with increased levels of cortisol, which may increase their risk of adverse health outcomes.”
Out of work
Data on 9,875 men and women aged between 36 and 52 was used to explore the relationship between stressful social relations and premature death.
They had all taken part in the Danish Longitudinal Study on Work, Unemployment and Health, from 2000.
The study found that frequent worries or demands generated by partners and children were linked to a 50%-100% increased risk of death from all causes.
Being out of work seemed to increase the negative impact of stressful social relationships. Those who were unemployed were at significantly greater risk of death from any cause than those who had a job, the study said.
Men seemed to be particularly vulnerable to the worries and demands generated by their female partners, with a higher risk of death than that normally associated with being a man.
Dr Rikke Lund, from the University of Copenhagen’s department of public health, said worries and arguments were part of life.
But she added that people who were always or often involved in conflicts were at greatest risk, and could be helped.
“Intervening in conflicts, particularly for those out of work, may help to curb premature deaths associated with social relationship stressors,” she said.
Prof Angela Clow, from the department of psychology and physiology at the University of Westminster, said the findings were “not surprising”.
“It would have been more interesting if they had looked at the biological pathways and shown why or how conflicts had an effect on mortality risk,” she said.