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Study Finds Widows and Widowers Feel Less Pain

Update Date: Nov 19, 2013 07:54 AM EST
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Studies that have examined the effects of being married or in a committed relationship have found that having a partner can increase survival rates. On the contrary, studies have found that when spouses lose their partners, their mortality risk increases in comparison to people who have not lost their partner. In a new study, researchers are reporting that widows and widowers might feel less pain than people who are still married and people who are single.

For this study, researchers examined nearly 2,000 patients from the medical College of Virginia pain center. The patients were between the ages of 16 and 73 with the average age of 41. The researchers were testing the participants' tolerance to chronic pain and theorized that married people would fare better than people who have been widowed because they have their partners as their support group. The researchers found that surprisingly, widows and widowers experienced the lowest levels of depression, anxiety, anger, frustration and fear in response to pain.

"We think that loss may force us to develop coping strategies to bounce back from threats to your quality of life, a kind of emotional inoculation against future lifestyle threats," the lead author, James Wade said according to TIME. Wade is a professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

Wade explained that widows and widowers might have better coping mechanisms since they have lost a loved one. Wade also stressed that the lost was due to uncontrollable circumstances, such as death as opposed to separation or divorce. Researchers who were not involved with the study stated that more research needs to be done to examine the relationship widows and widowers have with pain but believed that the findings are promising.

"Several theorists think the process of going through something like spouse loss can create increased resilience," commented Laura Watson, a gerontological psychologist at California State University at Fullerton.

The researchers took into account pain intensity, gender, age and ethnicity. The study, "The relationship between marital status and psychological resilience in chronic pain," was published in Pain Research and Treatment.

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