I see you’re in pain – The effects of partner validation on emotions in people with chronic pain

Sara M. Edlund 1 , Maria L. Carlsson 1 , Steven J. Linton 1 , Alan E. Fruzzetti 2 , and Maria Tillfors 1
  • 1 Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP), School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden
  • 2 Department of Psychology 298, University of Nevada, Reno, USA
Sara M. Edlund
  • Corresponding author
  • Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP), School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden
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, Maria L. Carlsson
  • Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP), School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden
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, Steven J. Linton
  • Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP), School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden
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, Alan E. Fruzzetti and Maria Tillfors
  • Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP), School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden
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Abstract

Background and aims

Chronic pain not only affects the person in pain, but can also have a negative impact on relationships with loved ones. Research shows that chronic pain is associated with difficulties in marital relationships, which in turn is related to a variety of negative outcomes such as psychological distress and conflict within the family. This suggests that couples where chronic physical pain is present also struggle with emotional pain and relationship problems, and thus targeting relationship skills and interpersonal functioning might be helpful for these couples. Although studies in this area are promising, their numbers are few. In the present study, validation as a way of communicating is suggested for handling emotional expression in interpersonal interactions. Validation communicates understanding and acceptance of the other person’s experience, and it has been shown to have a down-regulating effect on negative emotions. It has previously been demonstrated to be important for these couples. However, the feasibility and effects of increasing partner validation in these couples are unknown. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate if a brief training session in validation for spouses would result in more validating and fewer invalidating responses towards their partners with pain, and to investigate if changes in these behavioural responses were associated with changes in emotion and pain level in the partner with pain.

Methods

Participants were 20 couples where at least one partner reported chronic pain. The study employed a within-groups design in which spouses of people with pain received validation training (without their partner’s knowledge), and their validating and invalidating responses were rated pre- and post-intervention using a reliable observational scale. Also, positive and negative affect and subjective pain level in the persons with pain were rated pre- and post-intervention.

Results

Results showed that the validation training was associated with increased validating and decreased invalidating responses in the partners. Their spouses with chronic pain reported a decrease in negative affect from pre- to post-training.

Conclusions

Our results indicate that the partner or closest family member, after brief validation training, increased validating responses and decreased invalidating responses towards the person with pain, which had an immediate positive impact on emotions in the other person.

Implications

This study suggests that using validation in interpersonal interactions is a promising tool for couples where chronic pain is present.

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