Couples promise each other forever all the time but it turns out they really do stay with each other even after death, as researchers have found.

In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers showed that when a spouse passes away, their characteristics continue to affect the well-being of the surviving spouse. Additionally, the link between a deceased spouse and the surviving spouse is comparable to what the two shared when parties were alive.

Kyle Bourassa and colleagues had previously confirmed in an earlier study that interdependence exists between the quality of life of partners, showing that an individual's health or cognitive function influences not only their own well-being but that of their partners as well. They wanted to know whether or not this interdependence persists even after one partner passes away. Hence, they carried out this new research, which involved the ongoing project Study of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe.

Assessing participants from Israel and 18 European countries, the researchers examined data provided by 2,566 couples where both partners are alive and 546 couples in which a partner died during the study.

As expected, the researchers saw that the quality of life participants had predicted the kind of quality of life they would have later on and that interdependence was present between partners. What surprised the researchers was that even when death has befallen one partner, a link continued to exist between the deceased and the living partner. Bourassa and colleagues took into account other factors that may influence the results but their findings remained the same.

"Even though we lose the people we love, they remain with us, at least in part," said Bourassa.

The study highlights the role relationships play in determining one's well-being and also puts a spotlight on the fact that low quality of life can persist for the surviving partner when such conditions were present when the other partner was still alive.

The study did not address underlying mechanisms that influence interdependence between partners but the researchers suggest that ongoing interactions may be possible drivers in couples still together while emotions felt when a surviving partner reminisces reinforce the link with the deceased spouse.

Other authors for the study include Mary-Frances O'Connor, David Sbarra and Lindsey Knowles.

Photo: Rosmarie Voegtli | Flickr

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