Depression Increases Aggression in Young Adult Relationships

Young adult relationships can be complex and chaotic. Adolescents and emerging adults who are in committed relationships are just beginning to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and often are vulnerable to emotional uncertainty. They may try to reconcile their own beliefs about relationships with those of their partner, which can lead to challenges and even aggression. Better understanding the mechanisms at work in these relationships could help provide insight into the causes of physical and psychological aggression and perhaps offer ways to prevent or reduce them.

Erica M. Woodin of the Department of Psychology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia wanted to explore what factors led to dating violence and aggression in young people and more specifically, how attitudes toward aggression and depression affected violent behavior. Using a sample of 65 college-aged couples, Woodin classified 23 couples as very aggressive, 27 couples as moderately aggressive, and 15 as nonaggressive.

She found that the very aggressive couples had high rates of female depression, female dissatisfaction in the relationship, low relationship bonds, and high levels of aggressive condoning among the male partners. In the 50 couples with physical aggression, depression in females led to lower relationship bonds and higher aggression.

Woodin also noticed that although condoning aggression was a predictor of male aggressive behavior, depression in females predicted female psychological aggression. This was the case even among women who stringently opposed aggression. Woodin believes that depressed women may view their environment and their relationship through a negative lens which causes them to react to skewed negative perceptions with distorted emotional reactions, including psychological aggression.

These findings provide new insight into just how perceptions, attitudes and emotions work together to affect aggression in relationships. “We believe that the key implication for prevention and intervention that emerges from these findings is that the relationship context matters in young adult relationships,” added Woodin. Future work should explore how focusing on context can reduce aggression, especially for couples experiencing depression.

Woodin, Erica M., Valerie Caldeira, and K. Daniel O’Leary. (2013). Dating aggression in emerging adulthood: Interactions between relationship processes and individual vulnerabilities. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.6 (2013): 619-50.ProQuest. Web.

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  • Bonnie r

    July 6th, 2013 at 4:31 AM

    When did relationships in this age group go from just day to day teenage angst to full on aggression and depression?

  • Hank

    July 7th, 2013 at 4:42 AM

    I dated a girl one time who I just knew was so full of depression and anxiety that we just couldn’t work through that. Iw as young, and maybe had this happened when I was a little older I would have known enough to just try to get this girl some help.

    But then, all I wanted was OUT. It felt like she was crazy or something and would get so physically aggressive when things didn’t go her way, and then she would break down. It was hard to stay in that situation and feel helpless about how to help her but at the same time just wanting to get out of it and have no part of it.

  • marcia p

    July 8th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    I think that you will find in many instances the only way someone so young knows how to deal with feeling depressed is to express anger and aggression toward themselves and others. They are not mature enough to know any other way to handle those feelings.

  • Susan

    July 9th, 2013 at 4:24 AM

    So many adolescent romances are already filled with emotions and angst. . . in someone who is vulnerable then this could very naturally lead to depression. Give then these emotions with no clear idea how to manage them, and yes, then you have the resipe that is perfect for anger and agression toward the one person with whom they are the closest.

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