Links Between Communication and Relationship Satisfaction Among Patients With Cancer and Their Spouses: Results of a Fourteen-Day Smartphone-Based Ecological Momentary Assessment Study.
Cancer treatment poses significant challenges not just for those diagnosed with the disease but also for their intimate partners. Evidence suggests that couples' communication plays a major role in the adjustment of both individuals and in the quality of their relationship. Most descriptive studies linking communication to adjustment have relied on traditional questionnaire methodologies and cross-sectional designs, limiting external validity and discernment of temporal patterns. Using the systemic-transactional model of dyadic coping as a framework, we examined intra- and inter-personal associations between communication (both enacted and perceived) and relationship satisfaction (RS) among patients with stage II-IV breast or colorectal cancer and their spouses (N = 107 couples). Participants (mean age = 51, 64.5% female patients, and 37.4% female spouses) independently completed twice-daily ecological momentary assessments (EMA) via smartphone for 14 consecutive days. Items assessed RS and communication (expression of feelings, holding back from expression, support and criticism of partner, and parallel ratings of partner behavior). Linear mixed models employing an Actor Partner Interdependence Model were used to examine concurrent, time-lagged, and cross-lagged associations between communication and RS. Expressing one's feelings was unassociated with RS. Holding back from doing so, in contrast, was associated with lower RS for both patients and spouses in concurrent models. These effects were both intrapersonal and interpersonal, meaning that when individuals held back from expressing their feelings, they reported lower RS and so too did their partner. Giving and receiving support were associated with one's own higher RS for both patients and spouses in concurrent models, and for patients in lagged models. Conversely, criticizing one's partner and feeling criticized were maladaptive, associated with lower RS (own and in some cases, partner's). Cross-lagged analyses (evening RS to next-day afternoon communication) yielded virtually no effects, suggesting that communication may have a stronger influence on short-term RS than the reverse. Findings underscore the importance of responsive communication, more so than expression per se, in explaining both concurrent and later relationship adjustment. In addition, a focus on holding back from expressing feelings may enhance the understanding of RS for couples coping with cancer.