Affective pain is an emotional evaluation of pain, how unpleasant a patient finds it. Another measure, sensory pain, reflects how the pain is perceived, how it feels physically to the patient, Reese said.
The greater effect was for psychological disability more than affective pain, Reese said.
Reese can't say for sure that being in a high-quality marriage leads to better functioning. "It could be people with better emotional health may be more likely to get into a high-quality marriage," she said.
Because the study included more women than men women, it didn't explore whether being male or female affects the results.
The findings are no surprise to Dr. Nancy Klimas, an immunologist and internist who works with patients who have painful conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
In the field of psychoneuroimmunology -- what some call "positive psychology" -- there is evidence that "you can modify inflammation with coping styles," said Klimas, a professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Noting that Reese found that being in a distressed marriage was just like being alone for those with RA, Klimas said "that would suggest what's helping these people is being in a supportive relationship."
"Coping is an interesting, complex mechanism," Klimas said. "You have self-coping, things you teach yourself to deal with pain and chronic disease and to learn sort of an internal message" that helps keep you going, she said. "Then there is the kind of coping you draw from the environment."
If that is in the form of a supportive partner, "it adds a whole other layer of support that someone alone or in a non-supportive relationship won't have," she said.
For RA patients in troubled marriages, the findings suggest that efforts to improve the couple's communication and coping skills might boo
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