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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Couples coping with rheumatoid arthritis : spouse empathic responding as a moderator of depressive symptoms Stephenson, Ellen Christine


Objective. To examine the effects of depressive symptoms and empathic responding on patient disability and marital quality over time. To identify factors that contribute to patient perceptions of spouses as responding empathically to their rheumatoid arthritis. Methods. Patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and their spouses (n = 133 couples) independently completed mailed questionnaires at baseline and one year later. Patients completed measures of functional impairment, marital quality, depressive symptoms, and perceived empathic responding from their spouse. Spouses reported their own depressive symptoms and empathic responding behavior. Results. Perceived empathic responding was found to interact with spouse depressive symptoms contributing significantly to the prediction of patient functional impairment reports at follow-up. Only when spouse empathic responding was low was spouse depression associated with greater patient functional impairment at 1-year follow-up. Similarly, in the model predicting patient marital quality at follow-up, there were significant 2-way interactions between perceived empathic responding and both spouse depressive symptoms and patient depressive symptoms. Only when spouse empathic responding was low did patient or spouse depression significantly predict poorer marital quality at follow-up. Patient perceptions of spouse empathic responding were found to depend on spouse reports of their own empathic responding, patient marital satisfaction, and the interaction of patient depressive symptoms and marital satisfaction. Conclusion. Empathic responding from the spouse was found to buffer against the negative effects of spouse depression on functional and marital outcomes for patients with RA. In developing couple-oriented RA treatments, increasing perceived empathic responding could serve as a useful target for intervention.

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