Study: Widows continue emotional relationship with deceased partner

University of Haifa research shows that widows continue emotional relationship with deceased partner, even after remarried.

Haifa University (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Haifa University
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Women who remarry after being widowed at an early age continue an emotional relationship with the partner who died, according to a new study by the International Center for Research on Loss, Bereavement and Mental Resilience at the University of Haifa.
That is important for the Defense Ministry and IDF to understand, particularly on Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism. While grief and mourning change the relationship to the deceased, they do not end it, the university researchers said on Sunday.
The research – conducted by master’s degree-level psychology student Adi Salam and supervised by Prof. Shimshon Rubin and Dr. Efri Bar Nadav – studied 90 young widows, six of whom were formerly married to IDF soldiers.
More than two-thirds of the subjects remarried, making it possible to compare between relationship with the deceased and those with the current spouse. Salam returned to 15 of the widows a decade later, by which time eight had children from the deceased and 11 had offspring from their current partner.
The main finding was that widows, even those who remarried, continued to have a relationship with the deceased partner – a relationship that was no less intense than the one they had with the new spouse. Researchers also found relationships with the deceased spouse were regarded by bereaved families as precious, closer, more positive and with less conflict.
According to Rubin’s hypothesis of the two-way model of loss and bereavement, the study found that as time passed it was possible to see in the widows improved adjustment; an easing of the intensity of loss; and reduction in intensive preoccupation with loss. At the same time, the sense of closeness and positive feelings toward the deceased did not change and remained strong.
“The analysis of the mourning process indicated a significant reduction over time in traumatic shock and over-preoccupation with concrete references to the deceased, such as with similarities to people who mentioned him and his appearance,” the researchers noted.
Another important finding was that the function – positive or negative – at an early point of loss, does not predict future functioning. The fact that widows perform well at first does not necessarily mean that they will perform better later on. Conversely, widows who initially function poorly will not necessarily function poorly after a certain passage of time.
“You might have expected early-time functioning to predict future functioning, but that’s not how it turned out. Each widow coped with grief and loss in different ways and at different times,” the researchers said.
“The findings of this study show that mourning and memory are an essential part of coping with loss, and the relationship that continues to exist with the deceased is normal and helps to cope with the possibility of continuing the course of life.”