Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


This study unravelled the nature of the intimate marital relationships of spousal caregivers of dementia sufferers from a personal construct perspective. One hundred and twenty four long-term married men and women were interviewed: 61 spousal caregivers (30 husbands and 31 wives) aged between 48 and 88 years, and 63 spouses (30 husbands and 33 wives), of similar age, whose partners did not have dementia. A constructivist model was developed, hypotheses formulated, and both quantitative and qualitative methodologies were used to collect the data. However, during the in-depth interviews, many spousal caregivers denied that they were in a "marital relationship" and refused to complete the standardised measures. Due to this unexpected issue, the model and hypotheses became redundant and the study was amended. The complex nature of the intimate marital relationships of the spousal caregivers was then compared to the intimate marital relationships of the spouses in the comparison group. Gender differences were also examined. The study then attempted to explain the type of relationship the spousal caregivers were experiencing using personal construct psychology (Kelly, 1955). The findings of the amended study revealed very few gender differences. The comparison group reported significantly higher marital and life satisfaction, reciprocity, intimacy, passion, commitment than the caregiver group. The spouses in the comparison group were experiencing a "companionate" kind of love, with increased marital satisfaction in the years of marriage. Due to personality changes, the dementia sufferers had become strangers to the spousal caregivers, who expressed profound sadness, anger, guilt and anxiety over the loss of their marital intimacy. Although the spousal caregivers were experiencing an "empty" kind of love, they were highly committed to their demented spouses. The type of relationship the spousal caregivers were experiencing was explained in terms of nonvalidation, re-writing identities, and lack of sociality.