The Core Emotion Themes of Conjugal Loss1

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Previous studies have associated emotion and appraisal with long-term bereavement outcome. The present study extended this research by coding conjugal bereavement narratives for core relational themes (CRT) that served as emotional summaries of unique combinations of appraisal features. A range of CRTs was evidenced at 6 months after loss, with positive CRTs, such as love/affection and pride, occurring most frequently. As a way to examine competing models of coping with loss, CRTs were grouped by goal-congruence (positive/negative) and appraisal features (self/interpersonal) into four thematic categories, and they were compared with 6-, 14-, and 25-month outcome. Results contradicted the traditional “grief work” perspective, but they were consistent with the alternative view that recovery is fostered by identity continuity and a continued emotional bond with the deceased. With initial symptoms and Dyadic Adjustment Scale scores controlled, enhanced self themes (e.g., self-pride) and interpersonal affirmation themes (e.g., pride in the deceased) were each associated with improved functioning over time, whereas interpersonal discord themes (e.g., anger at the deceased) were associated with chronic grief.

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