Couple Communication in Cancer: Protocol for a Multi-Method Examination

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2022)
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Abstract

Cancer and its treatment pose challenges that affect not only patients but also their significant others, including intimate partners. Accumulating evidence suggests that couples’ ability to communicate effectively plays a major role in the psychological adjustment of both individuals and the quality of their relationship. Two key conceptual models have been proposed to account for how couple communication impacts psychological and relationship adjustment: the social-cognitive processing model and the relationship intimacy model. These models posit different mechanisms and outcomes, and thus have different implications for intervention. The purpose of this project is to test and compare the utility of these models using comprehensive and methodologically rigorous methods. Aims are: to examine the overall fit of the SCP and RI models in explaining patient and partner psychological and relationship adjustment as they occur on a day-to-day basis and over the course of 1 year; to examine the fit of the models for different subgroups ; and to examine the utility of various methods of assessing communication by examining the degree to which baseline indices from different measurement strategies predict self-reported adjustment at 1-year follow up. The study employs a longitudinal, multi-method approach to examining communication processes including: standard self-report questionnaires assessing process and outcome variables collected quarterly over the course of 1 year; smartphone-based ecological momentary assessments to sample participant reports in real time; and laboratory-based couple conversations from which we derive observational measures of communicative behavior and affective expression, as well as vocal indices of emotional arousal. Participants are patients with stage II-IV breast, colon, rectal, or lung cancer and their spouses/partners, recruited from two NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers. Results will be published in scientific journals, presented at scientific conferences, and conveyed to a larger audience through infographics and social media outlets. Findings will inform theory, measurement, and the design and implementation of efficacious interventions aimed at optimizing both patient and partner well-being.

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Sara Zafar
University of Buckingham

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