Individuals in couples who are highly satisfied with their relationships and report thought suppression may be more likely to elicit emotional support through pain catastrophizing, according to a study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain.

Researchers conducted this study of 50 undergraduate couples (mean age, 21 years) at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, to examine associations among pain catastrophizing, emotional inhibition, and interpersonal relationship satisfaction.

Couples were asked to complete an acute cold pressor task and were assessed for self-reported and observed pain catastrophizing, thought suppression, and relationship dynamics. Videotaped interactions between couples were coded for validation/invalidation and overt expressions of catastrophizing.

Thought suppression and ambivalence over emotional expression were found to be positively correlated to self-reported pain catastrophizing. Ambivalence over emotional expression and invalidation were found to be correlated to observed pain catastrophizing.

The researchers conducted a series of regressions to investigate how emotional inhibition relates to pain catastrophizing within the context of relationship dynamics. Relationship satisfaction was found to mediate the association between thought suppression and self-reported pain catastrophizing. This interaction effect was significant at high, but not low, levels of relationship suppression.

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Study limitations include a small and homogeneous sample.

“[T]he study suggests that targeting emotional inhibition, especially thought suppression, in the context of a couples relationship may be fruitful in reducing pain catastrophizing and thus, poorer pain outcomes,” noted the study authors. “The study also expands the current research on emotion regulation and offers a first step toward understanding how emotion regulation influences empathic or nonempathic responses of one’s significant other to the pain experience.”

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Reference

Leonard MT, Krajewski-Kidd K, Shuler R, et al. The impact of emotional regulation strategies on pain catastrophizing in the context of interpersonal relationships [published online September 10, 2019]. Clin J Pain. doi:10.1097/AJP.0000000000000764