Relationship quality and 5-year mortality risk

Health Psychol. 2020 Aug;39(8):633-641. doi: 10.1037/hea0000883. Epub 2020 May 14.


Objective: The present study examined positive and negative aspects of relationship quality with one's spouse or partner as predictors of mortality and the role of gender in moderating this link.

Method: Data were drawn from 2 waves, 5 years apart, of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (N = 1,734). Positive aspects of relationship quality (frequency of opening up to the partner to talk about worries and relying on the partner) and negative aspects (frequency of the partner making too many demands and criticism by the partner) were assessed. Survival/mortality status was recorded at the time of Wave 2 data collection 5 years later (1,567 alive; 167 deceased). Covariates included sociodemographic variables, relationship type, health status, and the network size of close family relationships and friendships.

Results: Logistic regression analyses showed that negative relationship quality with one's spouse or partner was associated with significantly higher odds for mortality after 5 years (odds ratio [OR] = 1.20, 95% CI [1.03, 1.38], p < .001), after including the statistical covariates. Also, age, gender, education, self-rated health, and medication use were significantly related to mortality. Propensity score matching replicated these findings. Follow-up analyses revealed that criticism from one's spouse or partner, in particular, was linked to a higher mortality risk (OR = 1.44, 95% CI [1.10, 1.88]). Gender did not moderate the relationship-quality-mortality link.

Conclusions: Negative relationship quality, notably, criticism received from one's spouse or partner, heightens older adults' risk of mortality. These results suggest the value of developing interventions that target reducing expressed criticism in couple relationships. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Family Relations / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Time Factors