Couples and Nonvisible Chronic Illness: An Integrated Model of Dyadic Coping
AuthorShrout, Marcella Rose
AdvisorWeigel, Daniel J.
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The purpose of this dissertation was to apply and integrate key theoretical frameworks, including dyadic coping, stress communication, relationship resilience, and developmental-contextual perspectives, to provide a comprehensive understanding of how couples cope with chronic illness. Using a sample of 242 young and middle age adult couples where one partner had a nonvisible diagnosed physical health condition (e.g., autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain), this study demonstrated that, for patients and partners, a strong relationship sense of coherence was associated with appraising the illness as shared, which was linked to more stress communication, which, in turn, promoted the use of dyadic coping strategies. For patients, dyadic coping and a stronger relationship sense were linked to higher relationship satisfaction, and a stronger relationship sense of coherence was also associated with fewer mental health symptoms. For partners, a stronger relationship sense of coherence was associated with higher relationship satisfaction, fewer mental health symptoms, and less physical health problems. In addition, the illness context (i.e., the illness duration and daily management) was important for patients’ coping processes, whereas the relationship context (i.e., relationship length) was important for partners’ coping processes. These findings extend theoretical work on dyadic coping by identifying how various coping processes impact patients’ and partners’ relationships and health in different ways. Taken together, this dissertation provided support for a unified, comprehensive model of dyadic coping that promotes adaptive coping, explains health disparities in chronic illness, and informs interventions for couples to not only manage chronic illness but grow closer and healthier by navigating it together.