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Marital Quality and Psychological Adjustment to Widowhood Among Older Adults: A Longitudinal Analysis

Objectives. This study examined whether psychological adjustment to widowhood is affected by three aspects of marital quality–warmth, conflict, and instrumental dependence–assessed prior to the loss. Methods. The Changing Lives of Older Couples (CLOC) is a prospective study of a two-stage area probability sample of 1,532 married individuals aged 65 and older. The CLOC includes baseline data on marital quality and mental health and data on grief, anxiety, and depression collected 6, 18, and 48 months after spousal loss. Results. Widowhood was associated with elevated anxiety among those who were highly dependent on their spouses and lower levels of anxiety among those who were not dependent on their spouses. Levels of yearning were lower for widowed persons whose relationships were conflicted at baseline and higher for those reporting high levels of marital closeness and dependence on their spouses. Women who relied on their husbands for instrumental support had significantly higher levels of yearning than men who depended on their wives. Discussion. The findings contradict the widespread belief that grief is more severe if the marriage was conflicted and suggest a more complex relationship between bereavement and characteristics of the marriage.