'Frenemy' marriages harmful to health, BYU study reveals

'Frenemy' marriages harmful to health, BYU study reveals

(Jaren Wilkey/BYU)



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PROVO — Marriages made up of spousal "frenemies" are seriously bad for your health, according to a new study out of Brigham Young University.

The study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, found that couples who fall in the ambivalent category — meaning not unhappy, but not necessarily happy — actually have higher blood pressure than their supportive and content counterparts.

Researchers wanted to look at marriages from a realistic standpoint, considering the fact that most relationships aren't all-or-nothing in terms of quality and support.

"Sometimes we think of marriage as this 'happily ever after' where everything is bliss and happiness," said study author Wendy Birmingham, a psychology professor at BYU. "The truth is, marriages contain varying levels of positivity and negativity."

Study participants answered questions about their marriages and spouses — mostly related to behavior. They were asked to indicate whether they perceived their own behavior or the behavior of their spouse as ambivalent.


This is important, as feelings of responsiveness and disclosure from one's significant other allows one to feel validated and cared for. In fact, feeling invalidated is more detrimental to a relationship than feeling validated is beneficial.

–Study author Wendy Birmingham


Additionally, participants wore a blood pressure monitor so researchers could record any correlation between ambivalence in marriage and variations in blood pressure, researchers said. Researchers took blood pressure readings every 30 minutes throughout the day — allowing for a more realistic environment, as opposed to one created in a lab.

"This study allowed us to examine relationship processes as they occur in a naturalistic setting," said Birmingham.

Researchers found that couples who reported more ambivalence in their marriages had higher blood pressure than couples who viewed their marriages as more supportive, according to the study.

Additionally, ambivalent couples were less likely to be intimate and reported less responsiveness and communication in their marriages.

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"This is important, as feelings of responsiveness and disclosure from one's significant other allows one to feel validated and cared for," Birmingham said. "In fact, feeling invalidated is more detrimental to a relationship than feeling validated is beneficial."

Birmingham said she hopes the findings will motivate couples to be more communicative, supportive and positive — all elements that can negate the harmful effects of ambivalence.

"If you're seeing these ambivalent feelings and negativity, it's time to improve," she said.

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Jessica Ivins

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