Researchers wanted to determine if marital conflict led to depressive symptoms in committed couples, or if the presence of depressive symptoms increased marital conflict. “Poor relationship quality is a significant risk factor for both diagnostic and sub-clinical levels of depressive symptoms, and depressive symptoms increase the risk of relationship disruptions,” said a team of researchers who conducted a longitudinal study on the issue. Tina D. Du Rocher Schudlich of Western Washington University, Lauren M. Papp of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and E. Mark Cummings and the University of Notre Dame, enrolled 279 heterosexual couples who had been together for a minimum of two years for the study. Each couple had at least one child between the ages of 8 and 16, and the partners were screened for the presence of depressive symptoms at the start of the three year long study.
The couples participated in a laboratory clinic once each year for three years. They were evaluated based on their conflict styles, what they disagreed about the most, and how they resolved conflict. The researchers were able to assess various types of marital interaction, both destructive and constructive. The couples were also instructed to discuss a major area of disagreement, and then take a break and resume conversation, but this time, about a less intense area of disagreement.
The researchers discovered that depressive symptoms increased in both partners when wives reported higher marital dissatisfaction. This led to angrier emotional expressions and increased depressive symptoms in men. Emotional distress was especially evident in the women. “It is possible that unhappiness in the marriage carries over into increased emotional distress in marital interactions, which over time increases wives’ vulnerability to experiencing depression symptoms in multiple contexts,” said the team. They added, “The need to target communication in both partners is especially highlighted by our cross-spouse findings, with partners’ constructive conflict being especially pertinent to spouses’ depressive symptoms.”
Du Rocher Schudlich, T. D., Papp, L. M., & Cummings, E. M. (2011, June 13). Relations Between Spouses’ Depressive Symptoms and Marital Conflict: A Longitudinal Investigation of the Role of Conflict Resolution Styles. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024216
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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