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Cancer. 2009 Sep 15;115(18 Suppl):4326-38. doi: 10.1002/cncr.24578.

Partner-assisted emotional disclosure for patients with gastrointestinal cancer: results from a randomized controlled trial.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.



For patients with cancer who are married or in an intimate relationship, their relationships with their partners play a critical role in their adaptation to illness. However, cancer patients and their partners often have difficulty in talking with each other about their cancer-related concerns. Difficulties in communication ultimately may compromise both the patient-partner relationship and the patient's psychological adjustment. The current study tested the efficacy of a novel partner-assisted emotional disclosure intervention in a sample of patients with gastrointestinal (GI) cancer.


One hundred thirty patients with GI cancer and their partners were assigned randomly to receive 4 sessions of either partner-assisted emotional disclosure or a couples cancer education/support intervention. Patients and partners completed measures of relationship quality, intimacy with their partner, and psychological distress before randomization and at the end of the intervention sessions. Data were analyzed using multilevel modeling.


Compared with an education/support condition, the partner-assisted emotional disclosure condition led to improvements in relationship quality and intimacy for couples in which the patient initially reported higher levels of holding back from discussing cancer-related concerns.


Partner-assisted emotional disclosure is a novel intervention that builds on both the private emotional disclosure and the cognitive-behavioral marital literature. The results of this study suggested that this intervention may be beneficial for couples in which the patient tends to hold back from discussing concerns. The authors concluded that future research on methods of enhancing the effects of partner-assisted emotional disclosure is warranted.

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