"Importantly," Graham noted, the person who used words that revealed he or she was thinking "on a deep level, which I call cognitive processing, attenuated the rise in cytokines every time," Graham said. So it worked for the individual using the words, but the mate did not always reap the same benefit.
If the woman used thoughtful words, it did reduce the rise in cytokines in the man, but if the man used the right words, it didn't affect the woman, she added. It's not clear why, although as many researchers have noted in the past, women are different from men.
Graham suggested that carefully expressing one's thoughts during an argument might have a lasting effect, because there is some benefit in simply stating one's case clearly.
"Those who feel they've done a good job of expressing themselves don't have to ruminate about it," she said. "They don't have to keep thinking about it."
OK, so the research shows that if you keep your cool, don't use inflammatory language, and run your comments through a bit of cognitive processing -- in other words, think about the words you use -- you can emerge from a fight with your lover better equipped to deal with some really serious health issues. But can people really do that, especially while discussing a contentious issue?
"I do think people can learn to be more effective in finding ways to really express disputes in a thoughtful way that helps the other person understand what the issues are, or expressing emotion in calm ways," Graham said.
"I've tried it," she said, when asked if she used this material during her own marital conflicts. "In my own life, I've found that it is a useful tool that does not always come naturally."