Study: Close friends key to healthy body, brain during relationship troubles

AUSTIN — Having a little help from your friends may do more than keep your head on straight during times of trouble in relationships, a new study finds.

It can also keep your body generally healthier, too.

Friends taking a selfie
A new study finds that having a strong social network and close friends you can turn to during hard times in a relationship can prevent dangerous health problems.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) surveyed 105 newlywed couples, who were asked to document the level of conflict in their relationship on a daily basis.

Prior to starting the experiment, participants were asked to record the quantity and quality of their interpersonal relationships with friends and family, along with any other defining characteristics of those connections.

Those who participated in the study with their significant other also had their cortisol levels tested every day over the course of six days, allowing researchers to examine either partner’s stress response.

The researchers found that “spouses who reported being more satisfied with the availability of friends and family, whom they knew they could with during times of marital conflict, experienced conflict as less physiologically stressful.”

Considering how couples increasingly reside in communities where they’re surrounded by unfamiliar faces, it is important to note that such a lack of social support can only increase one’s risk of developing health issues, such as weight gain, insomnia, depression, and heart disease.

“We found that having a satisfying social network buffers spouses from the harmful physiological effects of everyday marital conflict,” explains lead author Lisa Neff in a university news release. “Maintaining a few good friends is important to weathering the storms of your marriage.”

Importantly, the researchers found that it was the quality of one’s friendships that mattered more than the number of confidants they had.

Even those with just a handful of close friends or family members were able to better resolve conflict in their marriage.

“We found that the association between marital conflict and cortisol responses completely disappears when people are happy and satisfied with their available social network,” Neff concludes.

The full study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.