The Communal Coping Model of Pain Catastrophizing in Daily Life: A Within-Couples Daily Diary Study

Published:August 27, 2015DOI:


      • Patients reported greater pain intensity, interference, downtime, and pain catastrophizing when the spouse was present than when the spouse was absent.
      • Within-person increases in pain catastrophizing were positively associated with spouse reports of patient pain behavior at the same time and 3 hours later.
      • Within-person increases in pain catastrophizing were positively associated with patient perceptions of spouse support, criticism, and hostility at the same time.
      • Within-person increases in pain catastrophizing were negatively associated with spouse reports of criticism and hostility 3 hours later.
      • Pain catastrophizing may affect the interpersonal environment of patients and spouses.


      The Communal Coping Model characterizes pain catastrophizing as a coping tactic whereby pain expression elicits assistance and empathic responses from others. Married couples (N = 105 couples; 1 spouse with chronic low back pain) completed electronic daily diary assessments 5 times/day for 14 days. In these diaries, patients reported pain catastrophizing, pain, and function, and perceived spouse support, perceived criticism, and perceived hostility. Non-patient spouses reported on their support, criticism, and hostility directed toward patients, as well as their observations of patient pain and pain behaviors. Hierarchical linear modeling tested concurrent and lagged (3 hours later) relationships. Principal findings included the following: a) within-person increases in pain catastrophizing were positively associated with spouse reports of patient pain behavior in concurrent and lagged analyses; b) within-person increases in pain catastrophizing were positively associated with patient perceptions of spouse support, criticism, and hostility in concurrent analyses; c) within-person increases in pain catastrophizing were negatively associated with spouse reports of criticism and hostility in lagged analyses. Spouses reported patient behaviors that were tied to elevated pain catastrophizing, and spouses changed their behavior during and after elevated pain catastrophizing episodes. Pain catastrophizing may affect the interpersonal environment of patients and spouses in ways consistent with the Communal Coping Model.


      Pain catastrophizing may represent a coping response by which individuals’ pain expression leads to assistance or empathic responses from others. Results of the present study support this Communal Coping Model, which emphasizes interpersonal processes by which pain catastrophizing, pain, pain behavior, and responses of significant others are intertwined.

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