Researchers found that interdependence of life quality among couples persists even after one partner dies.
Lead researcher Kyle Bourassa, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona, and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Psychological Science.
Numerous studies have shown how a spouse can influence the health and well-being of their partner - a concept known as "interdependence." In January 2014, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggests individuals are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if their partner has the condition.
Such findings are perhaps unsurprising; couples often live in the same environment, which means they are likely to adopt the same lifestyle behaviors. But what about when one partner passes away?
For their study, Bourassa and colleagues set out to investigate whether interdependence of life quality among couples continues after one spouse dies.
Findings 'accentuate the importance of relationships for well-being'
The team drew on data from the Study of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) study. They included 546 couples in which one partner had died during the study, alongside 2,566 couples in which both partners were still living.
The researchers were not surprised to find that participants' earlier quality of life predicted their own later life quality, while a participants' earlier life quality was linked to their partner's later quality of life.
However, they also found that among couples in which one partner had died, earlier quality of life was still associated with the surviving partner's later life quality.
This finding persisted even after accounting for subjects' age, health and the number of years they had been married.
What is more, the researchers found that the interdependence in quality of life among couples in which one partner had died was comparable to that of couples in which both partners were still living.
Using another sample of couples who were part of the SHARE study, the team was able to replicate their findings, further suggesting that a person's quality of life can influence that of their partner, even after death.
Commenting on their results, Bourassa says:
"Even though we lose the people we love, they remain with us, at least in part. At some level, this accentuates how important relationships are for our well-being, but the findings cut two ways - if a participant's quality of life was low prior to his or her death, then this could take a negative toll on the partner's later quality of life as well."
While the researchers were unable to determine the drivers behind their findings, they suggest that reminiscing about a deceased love one could trigger thoughts and emotions that fuel interdependence. This is something the team wants to investigate in future studies.
"What we want to know is this: Is just thinking about your partner enough to create the interdependence?" says Bourassa. "If so, how might we use this information to better help those who have lost their spouse?"
In March last year, MNT reported on a study claiming a spouse is more likely to increase their physical activity if the other spouse does.