Having a strained relationship with parents, siblings or child may be more harmful to people's health than enduring rocky romantic partnerships, according to a new study.
"We found that family emotional climate had a big effect on overall health, including the development or worsening of chronic conditions such as stroke and headaches over the 20-year span of midlife," the study's lead author Sarah B. Woods, Assistant Professor at University of Texas, said.
"Contrary to previous research, which found that intimate relationships had a large effect on physical health, we did not get the same results."
For the study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the researchers used data from 2,802 participants in the Midlife Development in the US survey that included a nationally representative sample of adults from 1995 to 2014.
Three rounds of data were collected in 1995 to 1996, 2004 to 2006 and 2013 to 2014.
The average participant was 45-years-old during the first round.
The survey asked questions about family strain and family support as well as an intimate partner strain.
Health was measured using participants' total number of chronic conditions, such as stroke, headaches and stomach trouble, experienced in the 12 months prior to each of the three data collection times.
Participants also rated their overall health from excellent to poor at each round.
The researchers found that greater family relationship strain was associated with a greater number of chronic conditions and worse health appraisal 10 years later, during the second and third rounds of data collection.
"Comparatively, we found that greater family support during the second round of data collection in 2004 to 2006 was associated with better health appraisal 10 years later," said the study's co-author Jacob B. Priest, Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa.
There were no significant effects of intimate partner relationships on health outcomes, the study said.
"We were honestly stunned that there were zero associations between intimate partner emotional climate and later health," Woods said.
The lack of significant associations between intimate partner relationships and later health could be because those relationships can break up, whereas people are more likely to have longer associations with family members who aren't a spouse, the researchers noted.
"For adults who already have a chronic condition, a negative family emotional climate may increase their poor health and conversely, supportive family members may help improve their health outcomes," Woods added.