Resolving fights by day's end helps you you live happier, study finds

Want to live longer? Don’t go to bed angry! Resolving arguments before day’s end is found to nearly erase the emotional response associated with the disagreement

  • A study found resolving arguments before day’s end is good for your health 
  • When a person feels a conflict is resolved, the negative affect does not carry over because the emotional response link to it has been erased 
  • Experts also found older people are better at resolving or avoiding conflict
  • This may be due to them having fewer years left or life experience 

‘Don’t go to bed angry’ is age-old marriage advice, but a new study suggests it applies to everyone who wants to live a long, healthier life.

A team from Oregon State University found when people feel an argument has been resolved before the day’s end, the negative affect does not impact the next day.

This is because the negative emotional response associated with the disagreement is reduced, or even erased, once steps are taken to resolve the quarrel.

The recent study also found older individuals are more likely to resolve both sides of an argument, avoid them altogether and are much better at not allowing the emotional response to continue into the following day.

‘Don’t go to bed angry’ is age-old marriage advice, but a new study suggests it applies to everyone who wants to live a long, healthier life. Experts found when people feel an argument has been resolved before the day’s end, the negative affect does not impact the next day

Being able to suppress negative memories is a key part of mental health.

However, holding on to the thoughts can increase stress levels that have a major impact on overall health.

Robert Stawski, senior author on the study and an associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said: ‘Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives.

‘You aren’t going to stop stressful things from happening.

Results showed that on the day of an argument or avoided argument, people who felt their encounter was resolved reported roughly half the reactivity of those whose encounters were not resolved

‘But the extent to which you can tie them off, bring them to an end and resolve them is definitely going to pay dividends in terms of your well-being.

‘Resolving your arguments is quite important for maintaining well-being in daily life.’

For this study, researchers conducted a survey with 2,022 participants with an age range from 33 to 84 years old.

Over the course of eight days, each person was interviewed about their feelings and experiences.

The team also analyzed reports from participants about arguments and avoided arguments, which were cases when people could have sparked a disagreement but chose to let it slide.

They then identified how  the incident affected the person’s reported change in negative and positive emotions, both for the day of the encounter and the day after it occurred.

The measure of how an experience affects someone emotionally, an increase in negative emotions or a decrease in positive emotions, on the day it occurs is known as ‘reactivity,’ while ‘residue’ is the prolonged emotional toll the day after the experience occurs. 

Negative and positive affect refer to the degree of negative and positive emotions a person feels on a given day.

Results showed that on the day of an argument or avoided argument, people who felt their encounter was resolved reported roughly half the reactivity of those whose encounters were not resolved.

On the day following an argument or avoided argument, the results were even starker: People who felt the matter was resolved showed no prolonged elevation of their negative affect the next day.

The study also revealed that participants ages 68 and older were 40 percent more likely to resolve conflicts – compared to those age 45 and younger.

But the impact of resolution status on people’s negative and positive affect remained the same regardless of age.

On the day following an argument or avoided argument, the results were even starker: People who felt the matter was resolved showed no prolonged elevation of their negative affect the next day

The team concluded that older individuals may be more motivated to not argue because ‘they have fewer years remaining.’

And this group’s life experience  has equipped them with skills necessary for defusing or avoiding conflict..

‘If older adults are really motivated to maximize their emotional well-being, they’re going do a better job, or at least a faster job, at resolving stressors in a more timely fashion,’ Stawski said.

While people cannot always control what stressors come into their lives—and lack of control is itself a stressor in many cases—they can work on their own emotional response to those stressors, he said.

‘Some people are more reactive than other people,’ he said.

 ‘But the extent to which you can tie off the stress so it’s not having this gnawing impact at you over the course of the day or a few days will help minimize the potential long-term impact.’

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