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Aging Ment Health. 2018 May;22(5):587-594. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2017.1286452. Epub 2017 Feb 6.

Recalling support provision decreases distress and anger in response to partner suffering.

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a Social and Behavioral Sciences , Yale School of Public Health , New Haven , CT , USA.
b Invivo Clinics BV , Amstelveen , The Netherlands.
c Geriatrics Department, Yale School of Medicine , New Haven , CT , USA.



Thinking about a loved one's suffering can be emotionally stressful and have negative effects on a person's psychological and physical health over time. This study examined the hypotheses that when thinking about a partner's suffering (1) recalling past support provision to the suffering partner can decrease distress and anger and increase compassion, and (2) attachment orientation moderates these effects.


Seventy-seven older adult spouses of individuals with chronic pain were video-recorded while they disclosed: (1) an instance of partner suffering and (2) an instance of partner suffering plus their support provision. Compassion for the partner and their own distress and anger were self-reported immediately after each account. Accounts were coded for statements of support. Attachment was assessed with the Experiences with Close Relationships measure.


As hypothesized, distress and anger were lower in the 'suffering with support' condition versus the 'suffering only' condition. There was no evidence that attachment orientation significantly moderated the effect of support recollection on emotional responses; however, more avoidant individuals reported less compassion and anger and used more words reflecting anger across conditions. More anxiously attached individuals reported greater compassion across conditions.


When thinking about a partner's suffering, there are attachment-related differences in emotional reactions. Yet, regardless of these differences, it may be adaptive for spouses to think about their role in providing support to their partner to decrease their own negative emotions.


Support; attachment; emotion; marriage; pain

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