The purpose of this study was to qualitatively examine family relationships in families where one adult member was diagnosed with chronic illness resulting in chronic pain to determine why the crucible, or trial, of chronic illness triggered some families to strengthen while others weakened. The introduction of chronic illness instigates a process of change in family life, yet there is a paucity of research examining families in this situation, specifically when the chronic illness results in chronic pain. Utilizing grounded theory methodology and qualitative data analysis methods, dyadic interviews and periods of observation were conducted with six families across the United States. Questions were focused on family relationships and the impact of adult-onset chronic illness on relationships and family life. Open, axial, and selective coding were conducted during the process of data analysis, illuminating the important role family unity played in helping families remain strong. Findings detail the relationship between family strength and family unity. Adult-onset chronic illness provided a catalyst for families to establish and/or maintain family unity. Five families established or maintained family unity and reported positive changes in family strength, while one family failed to maintain or establish family unity and reported negative changes in family strength leading to separation and eventually divorce. This study has important implications for families facing adult-onset chronic illness and for practitioners serving this population.



College and Department

Marriott School of Management; Recreation Management



Date Submitted


Document Type





chronic illness, chronic pain, grounded theory, family strength, family unity