Importance of High Quality Relationships for Health and Well-being

Importance of High Quality Relationships for Health and Well-being

Social relationships are a central part of life and are among the most important predictors of health and mortality (Holt-Lunstad, 2018). Relationships also offer resources that help individuals adapt to changes they encounter across development (Antonucci, Ajrouch, & Birditt, 2014; Uchino, Ong, Queen, & Kent De Grey, 2016).

There are key ways in which relationship quality might be related to healthy aging

In particular, the quality of marital relationships has emerged as an important predictor of health throughout adulthood, and associations between marital relationship quality and health have been found both concurrently and longitudinally spanning a range of age groups (Robles, Slatcher, Trombello, & McGinn, 2014). Although some work has suggested links between marital status and well-being, with some reports suggesting married people enjoy health benefits over their unmarried counterparts (N. J. Johnson, Backlund, Sorlie, & Loveless, 2000), there is accumulating evidence demonstrating that marital quality may be more consequential for health than marital status alone (Gove, Hughes, & Style Briggs, 1983; Holt-Lunstad, Birmingham, & Jones, 2008). For example, one investigation showed that higher marital relationship quality was linked to indicators of physical and psychological health (e.g., lower ambulatory blood pressure, lower stress) (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2008). Moreover, this study also found that participants in lower quality marriages had higher blood pressure (possibly indicating poorer cardiovascular health) compared to single participants, reinforcing the importance of considering relationship quality in investigations of marital relationships and health.

Drawing on such findings, the Strength and Strain Model of ) was recently proposed to account for the diverging associations between marital status and health for people in higher vs. lower quality relationships. Broadly, the Strength and Strain Model posits that marital relationships involve both positive features (e.g., social support) that provide individuals with sources of “strength”, as well as negative features (e.g., conflict) that incur “strain.” High quality relationships are characterized by stronger positive features of relationships, which in turn protect and enhance health. By contrast, low quality relationships are characterized by negative features of relationships, which can compromise health.

How Might High Quality Relationships Affect Healthy Aging?

Although it is known that relationship quality is important for health (Robles et al., 2014), research on relationship quality has not, to our knowledge, been considered as a potential moderator of outlooks on aging, in particular, subjective age bias.

In particular, relationship partners validate core features of the self (Reis & Gable, 2015), especially the “ideal self,” or the person that one aspires to become (Hoppmann, Gerstorf, Smith, & Klumb, 2007; Rusbult, Finkel, & Kumashiro, 2009; Rusbult, Kumashiro, Kubacka, & Finkel, 2009). Ideal self-views are a key motivator of behaviors that influence healthy aging, and people continue to have ideal selves in older adulthood (Frazier, Hooker, Johnson, & Kaus, 2000). Through this process of partner affirmation, high quality relationships elicit behaviors that are compatible with people’s self-views (Drigotas, Rusbult, Wieselquist, & Whitton, 1999; Rusbult et al., 2009). For example, if Paul sees himself as (or aspires to be) “young at heart,” Margaret may provide encouragement that will prompt Paul to enact behaviors congruent with his self-view. Margaret may accomplish this by engaging in joint activities with Paul (e.g., trying a new fitness class with him), validating his self-view (e.g., complimenting his youthful appearance), or enacting behaviors herself that can help Paul realize his younger self-view (e.g., preparing healthy meals for him) (Fitzsimons, Finkel, & VanDellen, 2015). In turn, high quality relationships have important implications for goal pursuit and behavior both concurrently and longitudinally (Kumashiro, Rusbult, Finkenauer, & Stocker, 2007; Rusbult et al., 2009).

Furthermore, high quality relationships provide a source of companionship, which encompasses positive, everyday aspects of interpersonal relationships that are not tied directly to a specific event or goal (Rook, 1987). This could include quality time spent together, which could offer a respite from minor hassles (Rook, 2015).

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