Influence of Emotional Support Exchange in Marriage on Caregiving Wives' Burden and Marital Satisfaction

By Wright, Debra L.; Aquilino, William S. | Family Relations, April 1998 | Go to article overview

Influence of Emotional Support Exchange in Marriage on Caregiving Wives' Burden and Marital Satisfaction


Wright, Debra L., Aquilino, William S., Family Relations


Influence of Emotional Support Exchange in Marriage on Caregiving Wives' Burden and Marital Satisfaction* Debra L. Wright** and William S. Aquilino

We explore interrelationships among elderly couples reciprocih of emotional support, wives experience of caregiving for hushands with disabilities, and wives marital happiness. Caregiving is often perceived as stressful for both the provider and recipient. E'ccnges of emotional support between care recipient and care provider may attenuate these negative outcomes. Results support an equity model of exchange. Reciprocity of emotional support between caregiving wives and husbands who received care was linked to lower levels of caregiving burden and higher levels of caregiving burden and higher Ievels of marital happiness for wives. Reciprocity effects varied as a function of husbands level of functionalimpairment,with the positive effects decreasing as level of disability increased. Among noncaregivers, exchange of emotional support with husbands was also related to higher marital satisfaction, but the effect sire was smaller. The findings suggest that intervention strategies to increase the well-being of caregiving wives should include programs to enhance the exchange of emotional support between caregiver and care recipient.

Key Words: caregivitg. emotional support, marital satisfaction, social exchange theory.

Increases in life expectancy and in the size of the elderly population have focused attention on the need for care among frail or disabled older family members and the effects of providing such care on family caregivers (Lee, Netzer, & Coward, 1995; Spitze & Logan, 1990; Umberson, 1992). Caregivers for the elderly may experience stressors such as financial difficulties, physical decline, feelings of burden and distress (Young & Kahana, 1989), lower life satisfaction, and lower morale (Cantor, 1983; Marks, 1994). Wife caregivers in particular appear to be a high-risk group (Barnes, Given, & Given, 1992; Cantor, 1983); they are likely to experience more financial distress, physical and emotional strain, and receive less assistance from others with caregiving tasks than adult child caregivers (Barnes, Given, & Given, 1992; Hoyert & Seltzer, 1992; Kramer, 1993). For spouses who provide care, negative outcomes may also be exacerbated by problems associated with age, such as poor health and fewer social ties (Cantor, 1983). Despite the increasing interest of researchers in this group, little is known about the effects that caring for a spouse may have on the marital relationship and on qualities such as closeness, intimacy, emotional support, and relationship satisfaction.

Social support is frequently cited as a factor which buffers the negative outcomes associated with caregiving. Most studies have examined support from sources outside the caregiver-care recipient relationship. Social support from friends and family is associated with decreases in caregiver strain, greater marital satisfaction, and less burden for family caregivers (Spaid & Barusch, 1992; Suitor & Pillemer, 1994; Zarit, Reever, & Bach-Peterson, 1980). However, most studies fail to consider the exchange of support within the caregiving relationship, particularly when wives provide care to disabled husbands. Research on support exchanges between caregiver and care recipient focus mostly on adult children who care for aging parents (Dwyer, Lee, & Jankowski, 1994; Lee, Netzer, & Coward, 1995; Silverstein & Bengston, 1994; Stoller, 1985). In the marital caregiving literature, husbands are rarely considered a source of support for their wives when they are the recipients of care. This study expands the literature on caregiving and social support by examining emotional support exchange between caregiver and care recipient. We explore the influence of elderly couples, emotional support exchanges on wives` experience of caregiving burden and compare the effect of emotional support exchange on the marital happiness of caregiving and noncaregiving wives. …

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