Sharing Health Concerns with Partner Can Impact Depressive Symptoms

Researchers from the Netherlands, Canada and San Francisco, collaborated on a study that evaluated the relationship between depressive symptoms and self-disclosure in partners dealing with cancer. The team enlisted 64 participants who had been recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and their partners. They assessed the individuals for depressive symptoms using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, at three and nine months after the original diagnosis. Additionally, the researchers asked the couples to participate in a discussion relating to their cancer, eight weeks after the diagnosis. During this conversation, the participant with the cancer (patient) was encouraged to vocalize a specific concern they had. Their partner’s responses, emotional, cognitive and behavioral, were recorded by the researchers.

The team found that the patients who had more symptoms of depression were also more likely to disclose their concerns to their partners. However, the team did not find this to be true when the healthy partner was the one sharing their emotions. “Mutual self-disclosure was not associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms in patients and partners as compared with one-sided self-disclosure or low disclosure in both patients and partners,” they said. “It is important to note that decreases in depressive symptoms over time were least prominent in couples in which the partner disclosed a lot whereas the patient disclosed little.”

Because partners seek each other’s support in times of stress, these findings may provide insight into the consequences of sharing too much or too little. “These results suggest that mere disclosure of emotions and thoughts to one’s intimate partner is not beneficial in reducing distress,” said the researchers. “Partners’ self-disclosure toward patients who disclose few emotions and concerns even appears to be harmful both for patients and partners, given that it reduces the decrease of depressive symptoms over time.” The researchers suggest that a patient should consider talking to a mental health professional regarding their health concerns, rather than disclosing all to their partner.

Hagedoorn, M., Puterman, E., Sanderman, R., Wiggers, T., Baas, P. C., van Haastert, M., & DeLongis, A. (2011, June 20). Is Self-Disclosure in Couples Coping With Cancer associated With Improvement in Depressive Symptoms?. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024374

© 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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  • samantha


    August 11th, 2011 at 3:44 AM

    That’s weird…I expected being open to your partner would help decrease stress over time…Hmm,seems like some things are best shared with professionals even more than your partner…!

  • ashlea


    August 11th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    Why should I feel like I have to hold back on what I am feeling when my partner should be the person that I can talk to about anything? He should be worried about me and my health just in the same way that I would do for him. I am not saying that talking to a mental health professional is not what I would want to do but I also think that you should be able to feel completely open and honest with your partner or spouse as well.

  • Jameson


    August 12th, 2011 at 4:51 AM

    I am really kind of confused by all of this. I am saddened that there are couples out there who do not have the same kind of open and honest relationship with their spouse that I have found in mine. All is not perfect but it works and I think that a large part of that comes from both of us knowing that when there is something going on that we need to talk about that we can and the other is going to be there to listen and to help us through it. It would seem pretty damaging to me to have a relationship when both people did not feel that way about each other.

  • Todd


    August 12th, 2011 at 5:48 AM

    Well,I understand the concerns of the commentors above me but I think it happens because normally we would not like our relationship to be affected by health troubles.And also because the partner may not be a health professional,the health trouble could go on to have a far greater severity in their mind and thus affect the relationship.

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