Study Reevaluates Factors of Resilience After Spouse Death

Woman lying in bed with photo of husbandThe death of a partner can be damaging to the mental and physical health of the survivor. Though previous research shows about 60% of people who lose a spouse have enough resilience to move forward and be satisfied with their lives, a new study suggests a majority of bereaved spouses may not be receiving the support they need.

According to the study, the traditional methods for evaluating readjustment following the death of a spouse fail to account for the many ways in which lives are impacted by the event. Mood, motivation, social behaviors, and sleeping habits are just a few of the areas of life that may suffer after loss.

Most evaluations of well-being after spousal loss only include self-reports of life satisfaction as the key measure, with symptoms of depression sometimes being monitored as well. But while many people report being satisfied with their lives, they may have difficulty in other areas that can affect overall quality of life.

The authors of this new study designed their experiment to identify the other factors that may help to understand the multidimensional nature of resilience.

Expanding the Definition of Resilience

Published online by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this experiment took advantage of a database of information that was originally obtained in the Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia Study. In total, the researchers examined 13 consecutive years of responses from 421 people who had lost a spouse. Mathematical modeling was used to evaluate resilience by measuring life satisfaction along with emotional affect, general health, and physical functioning. The strongest predicting factors of positive resilience were also identified.

As measured by the traditional life-satisfaction variable, 66% of respondents reported positive resilience after the death of a spouse. When resilience was measured by changes in emotional tendencies, the findings showed only 19% eventually recovered from experiencing increased negative affect and just 26% reported a return to pre-loss levels of positive emotions.

Similarly, measures of resilience based on general health (37%) and physical functioning (28%) were significantly lower than the life-satisfaction result. The strongest predictors of positive recovery were the continuation of regular social interactions and feeling like a strong support system (family, friends, professionals) was available. The findings suggest a multidimensional approach to evaluating resilience after spousal death could be a better alternative to traditional measures.

Additional Research on Resilience After Spouse Death

Another recent study describes resilience after spousal death as a form of psychological adaptation that is reliant upon multiple factors. While the experiment focused on older people (ages 60-89) and would need additional data to evaluate other age groups, these findings also suggested recovery was related to several influences, including marital status, gender, and resilience as a personality trait.


  1. Brody, J. E. (2016, September 26). When a spouse dies, resilience can be uneven. Retrieved from
  2. Infurna, F. J., & Luthar, S. S. (2016). The multidimensional nature of resilience to spousal loss. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. doi:10.1037/pspp0000095
  3. Spahni, S., Bennett, K. M., & Perrig-Chiello, P. (2016). Psychological adaptation to spousal bereavement in old age: The role of trait resilience, marital history, and context of death. Death Studies, 40(3), 182-190. doi:10.1080/07481187.2015.1109566

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  • emma

    October 6th, 2016 at 9:18 AM

    My mother in law is doing pretty well since the death of her husband but for them it was not totally unexpected. He had been sick for a long time and she was his primary caregiver, so I won’t say that there was necessarily relief once it happened, but it does now give her the chance to regain some of the life that she had voluntarily given up while caring for him. She is now taking trips, getting involved with church again, things that she had to give up when she was taking care of him 24/7.

  • BeckyD

    October 6th, 2016 at 2:02 PM

    They have to have a lot of family support to get through an event that is as hard as this, there is no one who should have to go through this alone.

  • Caroline A

    October 7th, 2016 at 2:41 PM

    When you have always felt like you had to be strong then you simply carry on with that after you lose someone you love. Your whole personality does not change and you might miss them but if you have always been one to bounce back from adversity then this will likely be the same thing for you too.

  • harmony

    October 10th, 2016 at 10:33 AM

    I have heard a lot of stories about how one spouse dies after they have been married for so long and then it is no time at all, sometimes only hours before the other spouse passes away. When someone that you have loved for so long is now gone, I am sure that there are those who then feel like they have nothing left to live for.

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