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Women's experience of intimacy following their partner's first myocardial infarction reveals three common themes: perceived responsibility and limited life space; sense of life loss; and finding another dimension of life
  1. Kelsey L Hegarty
  1. General Practice and Primary Health Care Academic Centre, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Kelsey L Hegarty
    General Practice and Primary Health Care Academic Centre, University of Melbourne, 200 Berkeley Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia; k.hegarty{at}

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Implications for practice and research

  • Nurses need to pay attention to the well-being of partners of men who have myocardial infarcts.

  • Nurses need to explore the effect of a myocardial infarction on the relationship dynamics for example, communication patterns and intimacy.

  • Further research should quantify how relationships change post infarct, over and above the effect on sexual intimacy.


Women play a significant role in recovery after a heart attack of their male partners.1 The effect on the couple's relationship has been explored quantitatively, with a large focus on the effect on sexual intimacy.2 Arenhall et al explored women's experience of intimate relationships in connection to and after their partner's first myocardial infarct in Sweden. At the time of interview, male partners had been admitted to a hospital 12 months before with a myocardial infarct.


The sample included female partners (living in the relationship for 2 years) of the person who had the myocardial infarct. Twenty women (out of a possible 85 partners) were interviewed lasting from 8 to 65 min (mean 24 min). The background range in age, education and length of relationship of the women was wide. Audio-taped transcripts were read by all the authors and analysed through content analysis in an iterative manner.3


Three main themes were identified (1) ‘limited life space’ where the women felt stifled due to having to care for their partner; (2) ‘sense of life lost’ where the women described deficits in their life compared with before; and (3) ‘another dimension of life’, which was characterised by sub themes of ‘uncertainty of life, certainty of relationship and share life more’. This last theme had some positive elements of confirming the strength of couples being together and sharing life more in the face of the possibility of dying.


This study explores an under-researched area of the broader effect of heart attacks on a couple's interactions. The work is limited by the lack of a clear description of the theoretical or sampling framework.3 Further, the sample is too heterogenous to draw any transferability of conclusions and some of the interviews were of extremely short duration. This is not acknowledged and limits the credibility of the study.

Similar interview research4 post infarct of 14 couples described deficient support within their relationships; poor-marital communication and conflicted interactions between spouses and survivors. Another smaller study5 of nine couples found similar findings of couples living discordantly with lack of verbal communication.

Similarly, the most interesting finding by Arenhall et al requiring further research is the negative effect on some women of controlling behaviours by the men, post infarct. This has not been explored in previous literature on cardiac disease and intimate partner violence.6 Despite the limitations, the authors have raised an issue for nurses to explore in greater depth their care of female partners of men who have had heart attacks.Future qualitative or quantitative research is necessary to establish if these themes are found in a broader sample of female partners. Furthermore, in view of the gender differences found in the survivors of myocardial infarction,7 with women reporting less-social support compared with men, more research needs to be conducted on couples where women experience myocardial infarct. In conclusion, women and their partners have specific communication needs in relationships following myocardial infarction that nurses should acknowledge.5


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  • Competing interests None.

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