Everyday interpersonal experiences may underlie the well-established link between close relationships and physical health, but multiple-timescale designs necessary for strong conclusions about temporal sequence are rarely used. The current study of 145 patients with knee osteoarthritis and their spouses focused on a novel pattern in everyday interactions, daily spousal responsiveness—the degree to which spouses’ responses are calibrated to changes in patients’ everyday verbal expression of pain. Using couple-level slopes, multilevel latent-variable growth models tested associations between three types of daily spousal responsiveness (empathic, solicitous, and punishing responsiveness), as measured during a 3-week experience-sampling study, and change in patients’ physical function across 18 months. As predicted, patients whose spouses were more empathically responsive to their pain expression showed better physical function over time compared with those whose spouses were less empathically responsive. This study points to daily responsiveness, a theoretically rooted operationalization of spousal sensitivity, as important for long-term changes in patients’ objective physical function.
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