*The following is excerpted from an online article from the Huffington Post.
There is nothing fun about a nasty family argument. And research has previously linked relationship conflict to anger, depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems.
But a recent study published in the journal Human Communication Research points to a surprising upside for verbal conflict. It suggests that people who are exposed to such arguments during childhood may be better able to handle conflict in their romantic relationships when they grow up.
"Children who have experienced intense and frequent exposure to family conflict may adapt to it and evaluate conflict as normal, typical, or expected," study co-author Dr. Lindsey S. Aloia, a lecturer of communication at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, told The Huffington Post in an email. "Because these experiences increase a person's internal ability to adapt to conflict, desensitization is reflected in a diminished physiological reaction to conflict interactions."
For the study, Aloia and Dr. Denise Solomon, a research professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State University in University Park, Pa., studied 50 college-aged romantic couples. The participants were measured to establish baseline levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Then the participants were interviewed about conflict in their relationship and asked to complete questionnaires about their childhood experiences with verbal aggression among members of the family. Finally, the participants were videotaped as they sat together for 10 minutes to discuss a point of conflict between them before follow-up cortisol levels were measured.
The researchers found that people whose discussions involved more conflict tended to show higher levels of cortisol afterward. But the increase in cortisol levels tended to be smaller in people who indicated that they had been exposed to higher levels of familial verbal aggression in childhood.
The study concluded, "Conflict experiences can be beneficial, by alleviating tension and avoiding conflict escalation, reducing communication apprehension, and contributing to closeness within the relationship."