The study, published in Health Psychology, examined two groups of caretakers in two states (Michigan and Connecticut) and found that helping is associated with better psychological health for spouses when assistance provided to the ill partner is perceived to be appreciated and contribute to the partner’s happiness.
Seventy-three spouses of partners with Alzheimer’s or dementia and 43 spouses of individuals with pain (such as osteoarthritis or back issues) reported their support provision, feelings of being appreciated, levels of positive and negative emotion and physical health symptoms. When spouses felt their help improved their partner’s well-being and was positively received, the findings show that both partners experience better mental health and emotional well-being and less health problems
Our findings suggest that while some instances of providing support can be stressful for spouses of ill partners, other instances can actually increase a spouses’ positive emotions and reduce health problems. The important ingredient is feeling appreciated for the support that is provided."
“Although we know that chronic conditions can be stressful for married couples, it is not well-understood what aspects of care are most burdensome,” said Joan Monin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the study’s lead author. “Our findings suggest that while some instances of providing support can be stressful for spouses of ill partners, other instances can actually increase a spouses’ positive emotions and reduce health problems. The important ingredient is feeling appreciated for the support that is provided.”
According to Monin, spouses of partners with chronic illness tend to be burdened from witnessing their partner’s pain, having to deal with complex medical systems, physical routines or not having adequate resources to help care for their partner. Those things can take an emotional and physical toll. But, the study finding show that even with those burdens, a positive emotional response from the ill spouse makes a big difference to benefit the psychological of the caretaking spouse.
“Think about how you would feel if your love and support was never acknowledged,” explains Monin. “We wouldn’t feel good about providing the care and could even become resentful. We can see from these findings that reacting to our spouse’s care in a positive way may be one way to make both parties happier and healthier.”