Colorectal cancer, spouses, communication, social support, influence


The shared social context created in a marriage may be important in motivating engagement in health behaviors, but spousal influence may not be uniformly applied. Our goal was to examine how spouses discuss health behaviors relevant for colorectal cancer (CRC) riskreduction to better understand how spouses exert or fail to exert influence. In this pilot study, first degree relatives of CRC patients and their spouses completed demographic and self-reported health questionnaires. After a genetic counseling session regarding risk and risk reduction, couples engaged in a semi-structured discussion task to discuss lifestyle choices they currently undertake or could undertake to reduce risk. Demographic and health data was analyzed using descriptive statistics. Using a directed content analysis based on the transtheoretical model of behavior change, we coded discussion transcripts for depth and direction of talk for seven behavioral CRC risk factors. Spouses engaged in several strategies to reduce their risk for CRC, and problem-solved together to increase these preventative efforts. All couples mentioned diet and exercise as important factors in CRC risk; however, other risk factors received less attention. Despite evidence of support and encouragement, spouses ignored, minimized, or negated the importance of some health behaviors. Spousal influence could be an important tool to improve participation in health behaviors, but more guidance may be necessary to hold couples accountable to evidence-based guidelines to reduce risk. Health care providers should address couples as a unit to assess and address health behaviors.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Taylor and Francis




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



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Psychology Commons