Absent but Not Gone: Interdependence in Couples' Quality of Life Persists After a Partner's Death

Psychol Sci. 2016 Feb;27(2):270-81. doi: 10.1177/0956797615618968. Epub 2015 Dec 28.


Spouses influence each other's psychological functioning and quality of life. To explore whether this interdependence continues after a person becomes widowed, we tested whether deceased spouses' characteristics were associated with their widowed partners' later quality of life using couples drawn from a multinational sample of aging adults. Independent subsamples (ns = 221 and 325) were assessed before and after a spouse's death. Regressions revealed that deceased partners' quality of life prior to their death positively predicted their spouses' quality of life after the partners' death, even when we controlled for spouses' prior quality of life to account for environmental factors shared within couples. Further, widowed participants' quality of life was lower than nonwidowed couples' 2 years before and after their partners' death, but was equivalent 4 years prior. Finally, the strength of the association between partners' earlier quality of life and participants' later quality of life did not differ between widowed and nonwidowed participants. These findings suggest that interdependence in quality of life continues after one's partner has passed away.

Keywords: attachment; continuing bonds; interdependence; quality of life; widowhood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Regression, Psychology
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Widowhood / psychology*