The impacts of recurring supportive interactions on couples’ psychological, relational, and health outcomes in the context of rheumatic diseases




Farris, Kristen LeBlanc

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Supportive communication challenges have been well-documented by previous research in the context of chronic illness management. However, few communication studies have examined the dyadic nature of coping with chronic illnesses through social support. Furthermore, scholarship in this area has often privileged social support as prosocial and has been largely atheoretical in nature (Vangelisti, 2009). Thus, the study set out to address these gaps in the literature and was guided by the theory of illness trajectories (Corbin & Strauss, 1985; 1988), face and politeness theories (Brown & Levinson, 1987; Goffman, 1967) and the stress adaptation model (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

The purpose of the study was to examine the transactional nature of supportive interactions in the context of rheumatic disorders via testing of two structural models. The path analysis explored associations between frequency of support seeking and quality of provision along with both members’ subsequent psychosocial outcomes. Couples (n = 229) individually completed an online survey and were compensated $10 for their participation.

Results indicated patients’ support seeking (as perceived by partners) was negatively associated with quality of support provision (as perceived by patients) and positively associated with partners’ caregiver burden and relational satisfaction. Caregiver burden was negatively related to partners’ subjective physical health and positively related to their psychological distress. Finally, quality of support provision was positively associated with patients’ relational satisfaction and subjective physical health. The variables in the first structural model accounted for 18% of patients’ perceptions of their partners’ quality of support provision and 38% of patients’ relational satisfaction, while the variables in the second structural model accounted for 56% of quality of support provision, 53% of partners’ caregiver burden, 29% of partners’ psychological distress, and 21% of partners’ relational satisfaction.

Findings from the study lend credibility to enveloping the construct of social support in the theory of illness trajectories as a form of “work” and suggest that partners view support provision as an arduous task in the context of chronic illness management. The results also provide a more nuanced understanding of the costs and rewards of supportive interactions for both patients and their romantic partners.


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