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Turning to Friends Better Than Family When Coping With Spousal Death

Update Date: Jun 16, 2014 11:43 PM EDT

Turning to friends may be better than turning to family when dealing with a death of a spouse, according to a new study.

"Friendships are discretionary while family relationships are obligatory, and past research shows that obligatory relationships can be less beneficial than discretionary relationships during times of stress," study co-author Jamila Bookwala said in a news release.

The latest study involved 750 Americans from 1992 to 2004. Researchers examined the links between physical health and presence of a close confident. They found that those who found emotional support from family fared significantly worse in terms of health than those who sought support from friends.

"Family relationships are more likely to be characterized by ambivalence than are friendships," Bookwala explained, according to HealthDay. "Such ambivalence-feeling both close and bothered by the person-may occur even within confidant relationships with family members. This ambivalence may reduce the likelihood of health benefits from confiding in a family member."

However, friendship "is likely to be less emotionally complex, less ambivalent," she added.

"As a result having a friend to confide in may be more conducive to protecting health in the face of stress, such as becoming widowed. And this may explain why having a family member to confide in resulted in no protective health benefits for those whose spouse died, but having a friend to confide in did," Bookwala concluded.

The findings were published in the journal Health Psychology.

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