How Mental Health Affects Marital Health

New research has revealed specific links between mental health issues and marital distress. According to a new study conducted by researchers from Purdue University and the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, major depression is just one factor that directly contributes to low marital satisfaction. Susan C. South of Purdue University, and lead author of the study, said, “Low levels of marital satisfaction have also been linked with anxiety disorders, alcohol use disorders, drug use disorders, and personality disorders.” Research has shown that partners who both suffer with mental health issues experience lower levels of marital satisfaction than couples in which only one partner struggles. However, few studies have examined exactly how these issues affect marital distress. In their study, South and her colleagues looked at internalizing (INT) behaviors, including depression, anxiety, fear and phobias; and externalizing behaviors, including substance use problems, conduct issues and antisocial tendencies. They evaluated over 900 couples and assessed their marital state and mental health.

The researchers found that over 65% of the men in the study had at least one problem, the most common being addiction to nicotine. Likewise, nearly 60% of the women also had one mental health issue, with both nicotine dependence and depression being equally common, accounting for roughly 25% of the women in the sample. “Internalizing and externalizing psychopathology factors were significantly negatively associated with marital adjustment in both the individual and his or her partner,” said the team. “In line with extensive research findings to date, marital satisfaction was negatively correlated with symptoms of major depression for both men and women.” The team added, “Couples may well benefit from dual therapy that includes treatment for congruent mental illness and poor relationship functioning. These interventions should be targeted at the mechanisms by which broad classes of psychopathology impair communication and interaction and thus leads to dysfunction in the marital relationship. In this way, prevention and intervention efforts can focus on the ways in which long-standing patterns of personality, cognition, and behavior can trigger both symptoms of mental illness and dysfunction in close, interpersonal relationships.”

South, S. C., Krueger, R. F., & Iacono, W. G. (2011, September 26). Understanding General and Specific Connections Between Psychopathology and Marital Distress: A Model Based Approach. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025417

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kev


    October 12th, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    If ever there was a cse to be made for the benefits of dual marital counseling, this would be it!

  • andrew


    October 15th, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    it requires a lot of work to make a marriage work and with depression,not too much attention can be given to the marriage and the depressed partner would not be involved in it.this can further create issues for the other partner to see the former turn away like that.depression needs to be taken seriously that’s for sure.

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