Overcoming Barriers to Physsical Activity in People with Osteoarthritis: the Role of Empathic Accuracy in Couples’ Planning Discussions

Haran Sened, Stephanie G. Bahorski, Leigh Callahan, Mary Altpeter, Christine Rini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common chronic joint disease with significant individual and public health consequences. Physical activity can reduce OA symptoms, but patients often fall below recommended levels. Social support from an intimate partner can help them become more active; however, some couples are better than others at enacting effective support. We examined the role of empathic accuracy (EA)—the ability to understand another person’s thoughts and feelings—in couples’ ability to identify strategies for overcoming barriers to increasing activity. We also examined whether EA was associated with changes in affect and with emotion regulation and communication skills. Method: Forty-two insufficiently physically active participants with OA identified a barrier to becoming more active in a recorded discussion with their partner. Next, both rated self and partner thoughts and feelings during the discussion. Raters coded EA and whether discussions reached a solution. Affect and skills were assessed with validated questionnaires. Results: An actor-partner interdependence model found higher EA for participants in couples who reached a solution compared to those who did not reach a solution in the allotted time. Both partners’ EA was associated with reduced negative affect in the other member of the couple. Unexpectedly, EA in people with OA was associated with reduced positive affect for their partners. EA was positively associated with one skill: emotional clarity. Conclusion: Findings from this early-stage study suggest that EA can help couples manage health-related issues together. Emotional clarity emerged as a skill related to EA, suggesting avenues for additional research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-246
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Close relationships
  • Empathy
  • Interpersonal accuracy
  • Osteoathritis


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