When is helping your partner with chronic pain a burden? The relation between helping motivation and personal and relational functioning

Sara Kindt, Maarten Vansteenkiste, Tom Loeys, Annmarie Cano, Emelien Lauwerier, lesley verhofstadt, Liesbet Goubert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective. Self-determination theory (SDT) may be a useful framework to understand why chronic pain affects partners. SDT postulates that individuals can engage in helping behaviors for different motives varying from more autonomous or volitional motives to more controlled or pressured motives. This article examines the relationship between partners' type of motivation to help (i.e., autonomous vs controlled) and their personal and relational functioning. Furthermore, mechanisms underlying this relationship (i.e., helping exhaustion and relationship-based need satisfaction) were examined. Methods. In a sample of 48 couples, of which one partner had chronic pain (36 female patients), questionnaires measuring life satisfaction, positive and negative affect, anxiety and depressive feelings, relationship quality and relationship-based need satisfaction were filled out. Individuals with chronic pain (ICPs) also reported on pain intensity and disability whereas partners were requested to report on motives for helping and helping exhaustion. Results. Data analysis with Structural Equation Modeling revealed that autonomous, relative to controlled, motives for helping among partners related positively to partners' well-being and relationship quality, and negatively to distress. The experience of helping exhaustion and relationship-based need satisfaction mediated these associations. Moreover, partners' autonomous helping motivation related positively to patient-reported relationship quality among ICPs high in pain intensity. Conclusions. Applying SDT in a context of pain provides new insights into why chronic pain affects partners and how partners impact patient outcome. Directions for future research are outlined.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPain Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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