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The objective of this preliminary study was to examine the extent to which affective marital interaction related to depressive symptoms in persons with chronic pain and their spouses and to pain severity in persons with pain. Couples from the community completed self-report surveys and engaged in a videotaped conversation on a topic of mutual disagreement that was coded for three affect types (i.e., anger/contempt, sadness, humor). Humor was positively related to marital satisfaction in both partners. Spouse anger/contempt and sadness were positively related to depressive symptoms in spouses. Several significant interaction effects between couple pain status (i.e., whether one or both partners reported pain) and affect also emerged. Specifically, sadness in the participant designated as the person with pain was associated with greater depressive symptoms and pain severity when only he or she reported pain whereas sadness was related to fewer depressive symptoms and less pain severity when both partners reported pain. The relationships between spouse anger and spouse depressive symptoms and between spouse humor and pain severity in the person with pain were also moderated by couple pain status. These exploratory findings can be interpreted in light of emotion regulation and pain empathy theories. For example, partners who have not experienced pain themselves may fail to empathize with persons in pain, thus preventing effective emotion regulation. When both spouses report chronic pain, expressions of negative affect may instead promote emotion regulation because the affect is experienced with a spouse who may be more empathetic.


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This article is the author's manuscript and was previously published in final edited form as: Pain. 2007 November ; 132(Suppl 1): S86–S95.

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