So Close and Yet So Irritating: Negative Relations and Implications for Well-being by Age and Closeness

Negative social relationships are associated with poor health, chronic illness, and mortality. Yet, we know little about the dynamics of negative aspects of relationships within individualís closest relationships over time, how those experiences vary by age, and the implications of those relationships for well-being.

A total of 592 participants (ages 25 to 97; M= 57.5; 63.3% women) from the Social Relations Study completed monthly web surveys for up to 12 months. Each month they reported negative relationship quality with their three closest network members and multiple dimensions of well-being (positive affect, negative affect, self-rated health, and sleep quality).

Multilevel models revealed older individuals reported less negativity in their relationships than younger people, but fewer age differences in the closest tie. Greater negative relationship quality predicted poor well-being (i.e., greater negative affect, sleep problems). Links between negative relations and well-being were less strong among older individuals; especially in the closest ties.

Results were partially consistent with the strength and vulnerability integration (SAVI) model, which proposes fewer age-related improvements in emotion regulation when individuals are unable to avoid tensions. Despite feeling just as negative as younger individuals, older individuals may be more resilient to tensions in their closest relationships.