Wishy-Washy Relationships May Be Bad for Your Health

According to a new study led by Bert N. Uchino of the Department of Psychology and Health Psychology Program at the University of Utah, ambivalent interpersonal relationships cause telomeres, chromosomal structures that maintain a person’s biological balance, to shorten. Short telomeres have been linked with increased risk for heart disease, infection, and decreased cellular life. Research has supported the theory that negative relationships are directly related to increased stress and blood pressure, but this new study is among the first to closely examine the link between ambiguous relationships and telomere length. Ambivalent relationships may not have the detrimental consequences of negative relationships, but the ambiguous nature of the relationships can cause unpredictability, stress, and anxiety. Additionally, almost half of the relationships people have are considered ambiguous, raising the question of whether or not these relationships should be evaluated more closely.

Uchino and his colleagues interviewed 136 participants and evaluated their relationships using the social relationships index, and telomeres were measured through blood samples. The researchers discovered that the participants with the highest number of ambivalent relationships had the shortest telomere lengths. Additionally, the cellular aging of those participants was much farther advanced than the cellular age of those with less interpersonal ambiguity. Uchino also realized that the women in the study had more ambiguous relationships than the men and, overall, had shorter telomere length. Further examination showed that those relationships were usually with family members, friends, or acquaintances, which comprised the majority of relationships for the participants. Uchino said, “Although there may be some psychological and behavioral benefits to ambivalent friendships, the present study suggests these friendships may come with ‘hidden’ physiological costs, especially for women.” He believes his findings underscore the importance of examining every aspect of personal relationships, positive, negative and neutral, to understand how each affects an individual’s psychological and physical health.

Uchino, B. N., Cawthon, R. M., Smith, T. W., Light, K. C., McKenzie, J., Carlisle, M., Gunn, H., Birmingham, W., & Bowen, K. (2012, January 9). Social Relationships and Health: Is Feeling Positive, Negative, or Both (Ambivalent) About Your Social Ties Related to Telomeres? Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026836

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  • zoe


    January 19th, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    When you are in a relationship and one of the other of you ain’t feelin’ the love then I say it is time to let it go. Be done with that bad business and move on to something better and new!

  • jen


    January 19th, 2012 at 10:25 PM

    its an amazing find isn’t it..and does that mean we are biologically ‘programmed’ to have certain kinds of relationships?can a pereon’s social history determine his health and age expectancy?

  • Claire


    January 20th, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Interesting how you know that relationships can bring you down if they are not sturdy and steady but now we have real physical proof of what kind of impact something like this can have negatively on your life.

  • Vanessa


    January 20th, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    that is surprising.something on a social level actually affecting your biology.such relationships are only increasing.so the obvious question would be-is there any ill effect due to the shortening of the telomeres?

  • RL


    January 20th, 2012 at 11:44 PM

    But aren’t a lot of our relationships now becoming more and more ambivalent?there’s that feeling of competition not only between siblings but also between parents and children now.its quickly turning into jungle-everybody for himself…

  • Stressmom


    January 21st, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    Going out on a limb here but I really do think that women let this affect us way more than men do. Women tend to dwell on the bad whereas men are much better at shaking it off and saying who cares and moving on.

  • Gage Hopkins

    Gage Hopkins

    January 22nd, 2012 at 7:23 AM

    You would hope that dysfunctional families would read something like this and would then learn to hel the family structures that they live in.

    Unfortunately they are for the most part not going to see that there is something wrong with their own little world that they are living in and will not make that effort to improve.

  • JM


    January 23rd, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    While healthy relationships spread joy and good feelings,the thought and feelings inside of having an ambivalent relationship could really leave a bad taste in one s mouth.there is no real connection in such relationships and they may even promote competition or rivalry between the individuals involved.so my advice would be-if you share a good relationship with someone,tell them how much you value it,it certainly infuses real relationships with a lot of energy :D

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