Asthma is a disease that reflects our social and emotional world as much as it does our bodies and physical surroundings. Emotions, stress, and social support can either serve as asthma triggers or reduce our asthma symptoms and their effect on our well-being. Since partners are the main source of social support for most people with chronic illnesses like asthma, our relationships play a major role in our asthma and how it affects us.
There are four ways in which support from a partner can affect asthma: self-care, active engagement, protective buffering, and overprotection. Each has interesting effects on asthma.
- Self-Care: People who are married tend to take better care of themselves, including taking their medication more consistently, keeping doctor’s appointments, and engaging in more healthy behaviors like eating will and exercising. Spouses might help keep us on track by helping us remember medications and appointments and encouraging healthy behaviors. But having a spouse may also encourage people with asthma to take better care of themselves because they have another person relying on them.
- Active Engagement: Spouses can help with asthma in concrete ways by helping with tasks like problem-solving and helping with things that need to get done when symptoms flare up. Beyond directly helping, actively engaged spouses also contribute to feelings that we can meet the demands of our lives and illness, as well as contribute to positive mental health.
- Protective Buffering: Some spouses try to help ease the burden of asthma by avoiding disagreements. Although well-meaning, this can undermine feelings of agency. Particularly for people with severe asthma who already do not have strong feelings of agency, this can actually make symptoms and mental health worse.
- Overprotection: Like with protective buffering, some spouses may try to help their partners with asthma by helping more than is needed. Some research has found that this does not have a negative effect on people with asthma, while others have found that it makes spouses with asthma feel that they are not able to manage their illness on their own.
Even though some forms of spousal support, while well-meaning, may not be as helpful as intended, research still shows that the less lonely someone is the better their health. Since marriage is the main source of social support for people with chronic illnesses with asthma, having a spouse is a powerful protective factor for people with asthma.