atrial fibrillation, couples, grounded theory, qualitative research, uncertainty



  1. Dalteg, Tomas MSc, RN
  2. Benzein, Eva PhD, RN
  3. Sandgren, Anna PhD, RN
  4. Fridlund, Bengt PhD, RN
  5. Malm, Dan PhD, RN


Background: Living with a chronic disease such as atrial fibrillation (AF) not only affects the patient but also has implications for the partner. There is a lack of research on couples living with AF and, in particular, how they experience and deal with the disease.


Objective: The aim of this study was to explore couples' main concerns when one of the spouses is afflicted with AF and how they continually handle it within their partner relationship.


Methods: Classical grounded theory was used throughout the study for data collection and analysis. Interviews were conducted with 12 couples (patient and partner together). There were follow-up interviews with 2 patients and 2 partners separately.


Results: Couples living with AF experience uncertainty as a common main concern. This uncertainty was fundamentally rooted in not knowing the cause of AF and apprehension about AF episodes. Couples managed this uncertainty by either explicitly sharing concerns related to AF or through implicitly sharing their concerns. Explicit sharing incorporated strategies of mutual collaboration and finding resemblance, whereas implicit sharing incorporated strategies of keeping distance and tacit understanding. Time since diagnosis and time being symptom-free were factors influencing afflicted couples' shifting between implicit and explicit sharing.


Conclusions: Atrial fibrillation affects the partner relationship by bringing uncertainty into couples' daily lives. Even though this study shares similarities with previous studies on couples living with chronic disease, it contributes to the existing knowledge by presenting a set of strategies used by couples in managing uncertainty when living with AF.