Spousal social support and strain: impacts on health in older couples

Using a nationally representative sample of couples aged 51+ in the United States (N = 1,923 couples), the current study investigated whether both partners' perceptions of relationship support and strain are associated with an individual's self-rated health and functional limitations. The sample had an average age of 67.17 years (SD = 9.0; range 50-97). Actor-Partner Interdependence Models adjusting for couple interdependencies were applied using multilevel models. After accounting for age, education, gender, race, and couple differences in length of marriage, results indicate that individual perceptions of support were significantly associated with higher self-rated health and fewer functional limitations. These individual-level benefits increased if the spouse also perceived positive support and low strain. Finally, the negative association of an individual's perceived support on functional limitations was greater in those with a spouse reporting low levels of perceived strain. Findings are discussed relative to theory on behavioral and psychological pathways between partners' perceptions of support and health.