When silence isn't golden

October 20, 2007

In the eternal struggle between the sexes, women appear to have found an ally or two in the research community. In recent weeks men have come under scrutiny for not keeping up with chores once they're married (North Carolina State University), overstating their sexual conquests (University of California, Berkeley) and being generally dominated by their wives in conversation (Iowa State University).

But the biggest blow to manly-life-as-we-know-it may have been dealt by Gaithersburg's own Elaine D. Eaker, the lead researcher of a study that found married women who keep silent during marital disputes have a greater chance of dying from heart disease.

Get it? Biting one's tongue is potentially fatal to women. With just a few strokes of her keyboard, Ms. Eaker has not just given 150,412,368 American women a license to fight back, she's handed them a prescription ordering them to do so.

As a football fan might observe right before a bruising Ray Lewis quarterback sack (and with all due respect to women), that one's gonna hurt.

Ms. Eaker's study, published by the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, looked at marital strain and heart disease among more than 3,000 participants. After taking into account risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking, she and her fellow researchers found that women who "self-silenced" during conflict with their spouse had four times the risk of dying.

Interestingly, men who keep mum don't put themselves at risk. Apparently, the male self-expression gene is a far less demanding twist of DNA.

The researchers conclude that marital stress puts a strain on cardiovascular health and ought to be studied further. No doubt that's true, but from a purely male point of view, it would be a shame if self-silencing fell totally out of favor. As H. L. Mencken once observed, "A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married."

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