Shared leisure and relationship functioning among couples experiencing a chronic disabling condition
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Millions of Americans experience social, economic, and relationship losses and limitations associated with onset or exacerbation of a chronic disabling condition (CDC). Since many adults who have a CDC are likely to have heterosexual or same-sex partners, these losses and limitations may affect interpersonal interactions that influence perceptions of loss and relationship functioning. Although researchers have suggested that couples’ shared leisure may be influenced in the context of a CDC, and that changes may affect relationship functioning, associations between shared leisure and relationship functioning required clarification. This exploratory study used a qualitative design to explore perspectives of shared leisure and relationship functioning among eight female adults with a CDC and their partners (N=16) residing in the Southeastern United States. This study provides clarification regarding the (a) nature of shared leisure, (b) factors that shape leisure patterns, and (c) influence of shared leisure on relationship functioning in the context of a CDC. Findings revealed that participants described changed leisure patterns that influenced their perceptions of shared leisure as a positive or negative experience. Factors that shape leisure patterns include differences in partners’ perceptions of the CDC, as well as partners’ use of activity-focused and relationship-focused strategies to participate in activities and interactions that satisfy expectations of preferred experience. Shared leisure both enhanced and diminished perceptions of interpersonal loss and relationship functioning depending on partners’ ability to negotiate conflict and tension associated with CDC-related losses and limitations. Therapeutic Recreation specialists may benefit from findings to determine needs and provide interventions to couples experiencing a CDC who reside in their homes. In particular, leisure education interventions designed in collaboration with marriage counselors or support group facilitators may assist couples promote patterns of healthy relationship functioning through shared leisure. These interventions may facilitate opportunities for couples to acquire knowledge and skills helpful to their efforts to clarify values, problem-solve, negotiate conflict, and access resources and equipment helpful for participating in shared leisure in the context of a CDC.