The quality of the relationship with the spouse/partner appears crucial among patients with multiple chronic conditions where illness management is complex and multifaceted. This study draws on data from the Quebec Health Survey (QHS) to examine, among patients with one or more chronic conditions, the relation between marital status, the perceived conflict with the spouse/partner, and what the patients do to manage their illness as well as how they perceive their health.
Data from the QHS 1998 were used. The sample included 7547 coupled adults who had one or more chronic health problems lasting more than 6 months. Independent variables included marital status, perceived conflict with the spouse/partner, and the number of chronic conditions. Illness management was defined broadly as a measure of the patient's efforts at self-care and an illness status indicator, including visits to the generalist and the specialist, the use of telephone health line in the last 12 months, self-rated general health, mental health, and a measure of psychological distress. Linkages between the independent variables and illness management were assessed for males and females separately with logistic regressions, while accounting for the survey sampling design and household clustering.
Female patients who did not live with their partner and had never been married were more likely to report a negative perception of their general health and a higher psychological distress than those who were married. Perceived conflict with the partner was linked to a negative perception of mental health and a higher psychological distress among both men and women. Compared to patients with only one chronic condition, males who reported more than one chronic condition were more likely to have consulted a generalist prior to the survey and used the telephone health line, whereas females were more likely to have consulted a specialist. Both males and females with more than one chronic condition were more likely to have a negative perception of their general health and mental health.
The study provides a useful preliminary measure of the importance of living arrangements and the quality of the couple relationship in chronic illness management broadly conceived as a measure of the patient's efforts at self-care and an illness status indicator. Results of this study prod us to examine more closely, within longitudinal designs, the influence of living arrangements and the presence of conflict in the couple on chronic illness management as well as the modifying effect of gender on these associations.