Couples face many different challenges on many different levels. Whether it is over who will do the dishes or who will take care of the bills if one partner is in the hospital, each day brings different challenges. We also live in a world that presents many different stressors to one’s health and well-being. So, how does health impact the couple, and what can you do to help protect your relationship?For this blog, I will focus on diabetes and what research says you can do to help your partner and yourself. Diabetes imposes major lifestyle adjustments on those who are affected as well as those who are close to the patient, most importantly the intimate relationship. In today’s society, illness has the tendency to be viewed as a stressor to both the affected and those close to the affected, which speaks to the importance of adopting relationally-focused coping skills. The two main skills that have been examined specifically within couples where one individual has been diagnosed with diabetes are active engagement and protective buffering. Active engagement occurs when the partner displays support behaviors to the patient, such as asking how the patient is feeling and openly discussing the disease. Protective buffering consists of behaviors such as hiding one’s worry for the other, avoiding arguments, and pretending that nothing is wrong or different.
Research shows that both partners and patients who practice active engagement support behaviors tend to experience greater relationship satisfaction. However, couples who engage in protective buffering often experience less relationship satisfaction. Further, there is reason to believe that positive support behaviors may account for the effects of negative support, which can be quite detrimental. So what can you do in your relationship?Couples who are experiencing health challenges or even just challenges in general can take the advice given in this blog. It is important to turn toward your partner and talk about everything, not just the easy things. When you approach the hard topics and discuss the hard things for both partners, there is an increased chance for a boost in relationship satisfaction. Today when you get home from work or before you go to bed, ask your partner how they are feeling and express to them your concerns if you have them. It will mean much more for both you and your partner.Sarah Beth Thompson
Schokker, M. C., Stuive, I., Bouma, J., Keers, J. C., Links, T. P., Wolffenbuttel, B. R., & … Hagedoorn, M. (2010). Support Behavior and Relationship Satisfaction in Couples Dealing With Diabetes: Main and Moderating Effects. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(5), 578-586.