The Multidimensional Nature of Resilience to Spousal Loss

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Abstract

Spousal loss can be one of the most devastating events to occur across one’s life, resulting in difficulties across different spheres of adjustment; yet, past research on resilience to bereavement has primarily focused on single adjustment indicators. We applied growth mixture modeling to data from 421 participants from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia Study who experienced spousal loss during the course of the study to examine (a) the extent to which individuals appear to be resilient across 3 indicators of subjective well-being—life satisfaction, negative affect, and positive affect, and 2 indicators of health—perceptions of general health and physical functioning—and (b) factors that might promote resilience. Approximately 66%, 19% and 26% individuals showed resilient trajectories, respectively, for life satisfaction, negative affect, and positive affect, whereas 37% and 28% showed resilience, respectively, for perceptions of general health and physical functioning. When we considered all 5 indicators simultaneously, only 8% showed “multidimensional” resilience, whereas 20% showed a non-resilient trajectory across all 5 indicators. The strongest predictors of resilient trajectories were continued engagement in everyday life activities and in social relationships, followed by anticipation that people would comfort them in times of distress. Overall, our findings demonstrate that resilience in the face of spousal bereavement is less common than previously thought. More importantly, they underscore the critical importance of multidimensional approaches while operationalizing doing well in the context of serious life adversities.

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