Communal Coping and Adjustment to Chronic Illness: Theory Update and Evidence

Vicki S. Helgeson, Brittany Jakubiak, Meredith Van Vleet, Melissa Zajdel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


We present a theory of communal coping that describes an optimal pathway to patient adjustment among couples in which one person faces a chronic illness. Communal coping consists of a shared illness appraisal (i.e., person perceives illness as a joint rather than individual problem) and collaboration with a partner to manage the illness. We present a model of the communal coping process that links patient and partner shared illness appraisals to collaboration and a set of supportive interactions that might be reframed as collaboration in the presence of shared illness appraisals. We then outline a model that identifies potential antecedents of communal coping and mechanisms that link communal coping to patient illness adjustment (i.e., enhanced psychological well-being, improved health behaviors, better physical health) and partner psychological well-being. We review the empirical evidence for this model and conclude by identifying several moderator variables, noting potential limitations, and outlining future research directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-195
Number of pages26
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • close relationships
  • health
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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