Effects of communication styles on marital satisfaction and distress of parents of pediatric cancer patients: a prospective longitudinal study

Barbara J Wijnberg-Williams, Harry B M Van de Wiel, Willem Kamps, Josette E H M Hoekstra-Weebers
Psycho-oncology 2015, 24 (1): 106-12

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to examine the longitudinal effects of communication styles on marital satisfaction and distress of parents of children treated for cancer.

METHODS: Marital dissatisfaction (Maudsley Marital Questionnaire), intimacy, avoidance, destructive and incongruent communication (Communication Skills Inventory) and psychological distress (General Health Questionnaire) were assessed in 115 parents of pediatric cancer patients shortly after diagnosis (T1) and 5 years later (T2).

RESULTS: Only mothers' marital dissatisfaction increased significantly over time. No gender differences in dissatisfaction were found. Mothers had a significantly higher lack of intimacy score than fathers. All T1 communication styles were significantly univariately related to fathers' and mothers' T2 marital dissatisfaction, while not to T2 distress. Mothers' T1 marital dissatisfaction accounted for 67% and fathers' for 12% in the explained variance of T2 dissatisfaction. T1 destructive communication uniquely affected fathers' T2 marital dissatisfaction and T1 avoidant communication that of mothers.

CONCLUSIONS: Five years after cancer diagnosis in their children, the quality of parents' marital relationships seemed largely unchanged. Parents' use of communication skills at diagnosis appeared to have limited effect on their marital dissatisfaction and no effect on their distress 5 years later. While avoidant communication seemed indicative of mothers' marital distress, fathers' seemed affected by destructive communication.

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