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Men, women react differently to relationship conflicts

Posted on Oct 18, 06:18PM | IANS

Men and women expecting their first child have different stress reactions to quarrels or disagreements, according to a research.

Besides, recovery from the initial reaction to conflict also can be different for men and women, depending on factors such as anxiety, or relationship difficulties, such as chronic relationship conflict.

Researchers from the Penn State found that men's heightened stress levels - measured by the amount of the stress hormone cortisol - during a conflict discussion depended on the level of hostility the couple expressed, the British Journal of Psychology reports.

The team also found that recovery from the conflict discussion - measured by assessing cortisol levels 20 minutes later - did not differ for men and women with low levels of anxiety, according to a Penn statement.

However, men with a high level of anxiety recovered less, whereas women with high anxiety recovered more if the couple had expressed a high level of hostility during the discussion. The same pattern was found for men and women who reported low versus high levels of chronic, unresolved relationship conflict.

"Hostility and negativity in a relationship has been shown to have a major impact on mental health and the future well being of the couple," said Mark Feinberg, research professor at the Prevention Research Centre for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State.

Researchers recruited 138 heterosexual couples expecting their first child (82 percent were married) to participate in the study. In their own homes, the expectant parents separately completed questionnaires regarding their relationship experiences and individual qualities, attitudes and well-being.

As expected, they found that greater hostility in a conflict discussion led to increased levels of cortisol, indicating greater physiological stress, for men. The same pattern was not found for women. However, the researchers noted this may be due to the fact that women's cortisol levels are already high during pregnancy.