A Wife or a Patient: Fibromyalgia Patients’ Communication Behaviors Regarding Social Support and Coping




Willett, Kristen Leigh

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The objective of this dissertation research is to explore how women with fibromyalgia (FMS) communicate about their illness with their spouse to receive social support and how that communication affects coping strategies. To better understand this phenomenon, a sequential exploratory method was used and the research was conducted in two phases: (1) qualitative interviews that utilized turning point graphs and a retrospective interview technique and (2) a quantitative survey based on the qualitative findings. Three research questions were posed during Phase 1: (RQ1) What turning points characterize women's experiences with FMS? (RQ2) What turning points characterize women's experience in finding barriers to and the need for support with a relational other? (RQ3) How are relational turning points associated with illness turning points? Analysis of the data found 4 themes in RQ1: first symptom, difficulty with medical community, flares, and finding coping strategies; and three themes in RQ2: guilt, loneliness, and instrumental support. RQ3 analysis found little crossover between the turning point graphs. It was concluded that this was due to feelings of isolation and difficulty in communicating needs with their partner. From Phase 1, two additional research questions arose and were explored in Phase 2: (RQ4) How well do communication competence, perceived communication competence of partner, and relational satisfaction predict perceptions of social support? (RQ5) How well do communication competence, perceived communication competence of partner, relational satisfaction and perception of social support predict perceptions of coping with FMS? To answer these questions, the quantitative data were analyzed using stepwise multiple regressions. RQ 4 analysis found both perceived communication competence of the husband, in this case, and overall satisfaction with the relationship were highly significant predictors (p <.000) for social support (adj. R^2 = 0.77). RQ5 analysis found only communication competence to be a significant predictor of coping (adj. R^2 = 0.09). Finally, Equity Theory, Communication Privacy Management Theory, and the Relational Health Communication Competence Model were utilized to give meaning to the findings. A model describing of FMS Patients' Communication was developed.


This work was embargoed by the author and will not be publicly available until August 2016.


Chronic Illness, Coping, Fibromyalgia, Health Communication, Mixed Method, Social Support