Dear Researcher,

My fiancé is getting surgery in a couple of weeks, and although we are very happy we do occasionally have conflicts, I am worried that I may add additional stress to the situation. I have been reading articles about how stress can impact wound healing, specifically, how more stress can lead to a slower recovery. Is this true? Should I keep my distance after the surgery?

 

Best,

Sam

 

Hey Sam,

I am sorry that your fiancé is undergoing surgery and I hope that she has a fast recovery. However, I am happy to hear that you two are happy together and that you are concerned about her overall wellbeing! Yes, stress can lead to a slower recovery and so can conflicts. However, this does not mean you should keep your distance after surgery.

Relationships have shown to play a role in wound healing. Specifically, it has been demonstrated that hostile conflicts can have adverse effects and reduce the speed of recovery. According to Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues, stress can slow down the local production of proinflammatory cytokines at wound cites which play an essential role in wound healing (2005).  Additionally, participants wounds healed more slowly following couples’ conflict discussions rather than having supportive interactions and couples who were more hostile towards one another during conversations had wounds that recovered more slowly than couples who were less hostile towards one another (2005).

Stress has also been seen to lower speed recovery in wound healing. According to Maple and colleagues psychological stress has been shown to be an influential factor on the rate of wound healing (2014). Their study showed that psychological stress is associated with delayed wound healing, specifically slower healing in wound width and wound intensity. Additionally, they found that optimism and increased emotional stability was associated with faster wound healing (2014).

Interestingly, this idea of increased emotional stability was also found in a study by Philippe Gouin and colleagues (2010). In their study, they found that individuals who displayed positive behaviors in a marital interaction than negative behaviors had higher oxytocin levels. These oxytocin levels are usually associated with faster wound healing and wound repair. Higher oxytocin levels are also associated with better relationship quality and greater perceived social support. Therefore, according to this theory individuals in the study who experienced more positive behaviors and more social support from their partner had higher levels of oxytocin which lead to faster wound healing (2010).

Overall, I don’t believe you should worry about keeping your distance. As long as you two are happy, you avoid arguments, and you are supportive through her recovery, you both should be fine! Additionally, research has shown that the more support and emotional stability she receives the faster she will recover. Therefore, having you there would probably be beneficial!

Sincerely,

Alma

 

References:

Gouin, J.-P., Carter, C. S., Pournajafi-Nazarloo, H., Glaser, R., Malarkey, W. B., Loving, T. J., … Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2010). Marital Behavior, Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Wound Healing. Psychoneuroendocrinology35(7), 1082–1090

Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., Loving, T.J., Stowell, J. R., Malarkey, W.B., Lemeshow, S., Dickinson, S. L., & Glaser, R. (2005). Hostile Marital Interactions, Proinflammatory cytokine Production, and Wound Healing. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(12), 1377.

Maple, H., Chilcot, J., Lee, V., Simmonds, S., Weinman, J., & Mamode, N. (2014. Stress predicts the trajectory of wound healing in living kidney donors as measured by high-resolution ultrasound. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 43(19).

 

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