• cancer;
  • psychosocial oncology;
  • problem solving;
  • social problem solving;
  • couples;
  • depression


Objective: When one person in a couple has cancer, both members may experience depressive symptoms and may react as an emotional system. However, the variables that influence this depressive system have not been identified. This study examined whether social problem solving, an important moderator of individual cancer-related depression, is related to depression in the couple system.

Methods: Sixty-three couples with one partner diagnosed with cancer completed self-report questionnaires regarding depressive symptoms, social problem solving, and relationship satisfaction.

Results: Multiple regression correlations supported the hypothesis that depression occurs in an emotional system (patient depression predicted partner depression and partner depression predicted patient depression). When examining how partner social problem solving impacts transmission from patient to partner, hierarchical multiple regression demonstrated that one social problem-solving component (positive problem orientation) eliminated the prediction of partner depression by patient depression. No other component of partner social problem solving eliminated the prediction of partner depression by patient depression. Partner social problem solving had no effect on whether partner depression predicted patient depression.

Conclusions: Partners with more positive beliefs about solving problems were less likely to experience depression together with the patients. Further investigation into the role of social problem solving in the interpersonal depression system is warranted. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.