Want to stop fighting with your spouse? Maybe low blood sugar is a factor. Remember that snickers commercial where the guy at the party is grouchy and disgruntled, his wing man comes over and offers him a snickers and after the first bite he is transformed into a charming and friendly guy? It’s a silly idea, often referred to as being “hangry” and while anecdotal information abounds on this topic, turns out there is truth to the idea that low blood sugar can result in higher incidents of aggression in a marriage. In a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Brad Bushman gave 107 married couples voodoo dolls to represent their spouse, blood glucose levels were measured and participants were then asked to put pins in the dolls. The end result…the lower the blood sugar, the more pins stuck in the dolls. So what is this really about? Will low blood sugar cause more arguments?
It’s certainly not that simple. What Bushman argues is that low blood sugar makes it harder to exercise self-control. Emotional self regulation is a very important part of how well couples handle difficult topics that could lead to an argument. When you’re hungry your brain is simply unable to think rationally. Anger blocks insight and makes it extremely hard to use calm, collaborative communication skills. Suggesting managing your blood sugar will stop you from fighting is too simplistic. There is however, wisdom in the idea that when you start to feel your anger ceiling rise, it can be very helpful to stop and ask yourself… Am I hungry? Am I tired? Am I stressed? These clues can all signal that it is time to walk away, cool off, maybe have a snack and then come back when you are more level headed. This is the key to emotional self-regulation. When both partners exercise emotional self-regulation the end result is fewer arguments and a warmer and more collaborative climate in the marriage.
So, what’s the take away? Emotional self-regulation is a very important part of a loving and long-lasting marriage. Understanding that physical stressors like hunger play a role in your ability to self-regulate may help to stop fighting before it escalates. Perhaps by making a quick snack part of your exit and re-enter strategy (a Power of Two skill for taking a break and then returning to a conversation) you can stop fighting and start communicating.