Marital status, marital transitions, well-being, and spinal cord injury: An examination of the effects of sex and time

Claire Z. Kalpakjian, Bethlyn Houlihan, Michelle A. Meade, Dunia Karana-Zebari, Allen W. Heinemann, Marcel P. Dijkers, Jane Wierbicky, Susan Charlifue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Objective To examine the applicability of marital resource (marriage has substantial benefits for well-being over not being married) or marital crisis (marital dissolution leads to poorer well-being) models to the spinal cord injury (SCI) population by studying the effects of sex, marital status, and marital transitions on well-being. Design Prospective cohort study from the SCI Model Systems National Database. Setting Community. Participants Men (n=4864) and women (n=1277) who sustained traumatic SCI and completed a minimum of 1 follow-up interview beginning at 1 year through 15 years postinjury. Interventions None. Main Outcomes Measures Life satisfaction, depressive symptoms, and self-perceived health status by using linear mixed models for longitudinal data. Results In general, well-being improved over time since injury. Hypothesis testing supported the marital crisis model, as marital loss through being or becoming separated or divorced and being or becoming widowed, had the most consistent and negative impact across well-being outcomes, whereas being or becoming married had an advantage for only lower depression symptoms over time. However, marital dissolution or loss did not have a uniformly adverse impact on well-being outcomes, and this effect often was moderated by sex, such that widows had higher depressive symptoms and poorer self-perceived health than widowers, but separated or divorced women had higher life satisfaction and self-perceived health than men. Irrespective of sex, being separated or divorced versus being single was associated with higher depressive symptoms over time. Conclusions Results support the marital crisis model and that women and men can experience marital dissolution differently. All marital loss does not result in compromised well-being and all marriage does not enhance well-being, highlighting complex dynamics worthy of further investigation in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-440
Number of pages8
JournalArchives of physical medicine and rehabilitation
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Quality of life
  • Rehabilitation
  • Spinal cord injuries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation

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