Fights, Arguments, and Conflicts Will Kill You–Literally


Arguments with loved ones will shorten your life.

If you live a life of arguments, fighting, and conflicts in your family and at work, you are killing yourself. Danish researchers have found that people who fight and argue suffer 10 times more cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and are 2 to 3 times more likely to die than those who do not.

“Stressful social relations in private life are associated with a two- to three-times increased risk of dying,” said lead researcher Dr. Rikke Lund, an associate professor in the department of public health at the University of Copenhagen.

“Worries and demands from partners and children, and conflicts in general, seem the most important risk factors,” she said.

The findings still held when chronic disease, depressive symptoms, age, sex, marital status, support from social relations, and social and economic position were taken into account, Lund said.

For the study, Lund and colleagues collected data on nearly 10,000 men and women, aged 36 to 52, who took part in the Danish Longitudinal Study on Work, Unemployment and Health.

Participants were asked about their everyday social relationships, particularly about who, among partners, children, other relatives, friends and neighbors, made excess demands, prompted worries or were a source of conflict, and how often these problems arose.

Using data from the Danish Cause of Death Registry, researchers tracked participants over a 12 year span from 2000 to the end of 2011.

The researchers found that stresses related to excess demands, conflicts, and arguing were linked to a 50 percent to 100 percent increased risk of death from any cause. Among all these stresses, arguing was the most harmful.

Frequent arguments with partners, relatives, friends or neighbors were associated with a doubling to tripling in the risk of death from any cause, compared with those who said these incidents were rare.

This study confirms what we already know from common experience: arguing and fighting is bad for our health. The question remains, what to do about it?

In my work as a peacemaker, mediator, and trainer, I have only found one skill that truly works. The secret: Knowing how to listen. But, listen for what? It turns out that true listening means that you have to ignore the words. Instead, you have to listen for the emotions of your story teller.

When you listen for the emotions, amazing things happen. First, your ego disappears and you no longer can be triggered by anything being said to you. Second, you can de-escalate an angry adult or child in 90 seconds or less. Third, you can provide a priceless gift of listening another person into existence.

The challenge is that the skill is counter-intuitive. You must ignore the words and listen only for the emotions. You cannot use “I” statements or ask questions. The old active listening where you repeat back or paraphrase the words does not work to de-escalate anger and strong emotions. As many of us have experienced, that form of active listening is often manipulative and inauthentic.

The listening skills I am talking about were perfected in the award-winning Prison of Peace project. My colleague Laurel Kaufer and I teach inmates serving life sentences to be powerful peacemakers in their prison communities. During the first four weeks of training, we do nothing but teach them how to listen to emotions. Using these skills, they have stopped violence and fighting. One of our peacemakers stopped a prison riot dead in its tracks using this skill. It took us some years to understand exactly how to teach these skills so that prison inmates (men and women, in maximum security prisons) could use them. Now, many inmates come to us to say that if they had learned these skills 20 years ago, they would not be in prison today.

If you focus only on the emotional experience of your story teller, you will de-escalate strong emotions, such as anger and rage, in 90 seconds or less. This sounds impossible, but as our inmate peacemakers have proven, it is a skill anyone can master with a little practice. I am now teaching the skill to teachers so that they can de-escalate their students quickly and compassionately without losing power or control in the classroom. I am teaching it to professional mediators who deal with resolving conflict every day. I am teaching it to anyone who wants to learn online at

Learning how to listen can lengthen your life, reduce your stress, improve your relationships, and transform the lives of those you love. Like any serious skill, its takes knowledge and practice, but can be mastered in a few hours of instruction. Give yourself a precious gift of life: Learn how to listen.


Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA, is the award-winning author of Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Can Better Resolve World Conflicts and was honored as California Magazine California Attorney of the Year in 2012. His latest online course, It’s Pure Magic, teaches you how to de-escalate an angry person or child in 90 seconds or less, based on his prison work.

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