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The Impact of Emotional Regulation Strategies on Pain Catastrophizing in the Context of Interpersonal Relationships

Leonard, Michelle T. PhD*; Krajewski-Kidd, Katie MS*; Shuler, Rickey MS*; Wesolowicz, Danielle MS*,†; Miller, Chazlyn MS*; Chatkoff, David PhD*

doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000764
Original Articles

Objectives: The Communal Coping Model suggests that pain catastrophizing may serve to elicit support from others. What is not known is how emotional regulation, namely emotional inhibition, impacts pain catastrophizing within the context of an interpersonal relationship. Individuals who have a greater tendency to emotionally inhibit may have a greater likelihood to use catastrophizing as a means for seeking support, particularly in relationships characterized by satisfaction and emotional validation.

Methods: Data were collected from 50 undergraduate couples at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Participants were videotaped during the completion of an acute pain cold pressor task and completed measures involving pain catastrophizing, emotional inhibition, and relationship dynamics (ie, Ambivalence Over Emotional Expressiveness Questionnaire, White Bear Suppression Inventory, Dyadic Adjustment Scale). In addition, the videotaped interactions were coded for both invalidation/validation and overt expressions of pain catastrophizing.

Results: Emotional inhibition, and both validation and invalidation were associated with pain catastrophizing. Observed validation and invalidation were not, however, directly associated with relationship satisfaction. Hierarchical linear regression showed a significant interaction between thought suppression and relationship satisfaction to predict pain catastrophizing.

Discussion: Results show relationship satisfaction moderates the association between pain catastrophizing and thought suppression in a manner in which couples with high levels of relationship satisfaction who also engage in thought suppression are more likely to use pain catastrophizing as a cognitive strategy to elicit support. This study offers direction into treatment and suggests that couples based cognitive-behavioral treatments that aim to utilize adaptive cognitive and behavioral coping strategies, as well as emotional exploration and validation, may be beneficial.

*Department of Behavioral Sciences, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Dearborn, MI

Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Michelle T. Leonard, PhD, Department of Behavioral Sciences, University of Michigan-Dearborn, 4901 Evergreen Road, Dearborn, MI 48128 (e-mail:

Received December 5, 2018

Received in revised form July 25, 2019

Accepted August 30, 2019

Online date: September 10, 2019

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