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Mismatch in Spouses' Anger-Coping Response Styles and Risk of Early Mortality

A 32-Year Follow-Up Study

Bourassa, Kyle J., MA; Sbarra, David A., PhD; Ruiz, John M., PhD; Karciroti, Niko, PhD; Harburg, Ernest, PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000653
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Objective Research in psychosomatic medicine includes a long history of studying how responses to anger-provoking situations are associated with health. In the context of a marriage, spouses may differ in their anger-coping response style. Where one person may express anger in response to unfair, aggressive interpersonal interactions, his/her partner may instead suppress anger. Discordant response styles within couples may lead to increased relational conflict, which, in turn, may undermine long-term health. The current study sought to examine the association between spouses' anger-coping response styles and mortality status 32 years later.

Methods The present study used data from a subsample of married couples (N = 192) drawn from the Life Change Event Study to create an actor-partner interdependence model.

Results Neither husbands' nor wives' response styles predicted their own or their partners' mortality. Wives' anger-coping response style, however, significantly moderated the association of husbands' response style on mortality risk 32 years later, β = −0.18, −0.35 to −0.01, p = .039. Similarly, husbands' response style significantly moderated the association of wives' response style and their later mortality, β = −0.24, −0.38 to −0.10, p < .001. These effects were such that the greater the mismatch between spouses' anger-coping response style, the greater the risk of early death.

Conclusions For a three-decade follow-up, husbands and wives were at greater risk of early death when their anger-coping response styles differed. Degree of mismatch between spouses' response styles may be an important long-term predictor of spouses' early mortality risk.

From the Department of Psychology (Bourassa, Sbarra, Ruiz), University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona; and School of Public Health (Kaciroti, Harburg), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Address correspondence to Kyle J. Bourassa, MA, Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, 1503 E University Blvd, Bldg #68, Tucson, AZ 85721-0068. E-mail: kylebourassa@email.arizona.edu

Related editorial on pages 2–6

Received for publication April 23, 2018; revision received October 12, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 by American Psychosomatic Society
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