How Might Depression Affect Marriage?

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • I’ve been reflecting on the nature of marriage, the extent to which marital upsets cause depression, and whether there is something particular about marriage we have to consider? In this post I think we might consider how depression can become a cause of marital difficulties.


    A central characteristic of depression is negative thinking so it isn’t difficult to imagine how this influences a relationship. An important feature of relationships is compromise, we learn to take the rough with the smooth, and we try to adapt to the needs and expectations of our partner. In depression this is much less likely.

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    Even if you’ve never been clinically depressed, you know what it’s like to have a low mood. There’s the tendency to pick up the more irritating and less rewarding aspects of a relationship and you probably also know you aren’t the best person to be around because you feel withdrawn, sullen and moody. Not only are you sending messages about yourself but you’re also picking holes in things you’d perhaps overlook in happier times.


    Depression in marriage can become infectious. As one partner becomes more withdrawn, more critical and more self-absorbed, so the risk of their partner succumbing may increase. In a worst-case scenario we see a vicious circle of recrimination, poor-conflict resolution, and overall marriage dissatisfaction. Various studies support such findings. Davilla (2003) and colleagues tracked newlywed couples over a period of four years and confirmed that depressive symptoms predicted lower levels of marital satisfaction over time as much as marital satisfaction levels predicted depressive symptoms.


    This brings me to the nature of marriage itself. There is some speculation that vulnerability to depression may in part be rooted in the inability of some people to manage the relative complexity of a relationship, form mature emotional attachments and trust. We certainly know there is a strong association between depression and marital difficulty but the mechanisms may be varied. We know, for example that while depression may cause disharmony it (depression) is also frequently misunderstood for what it is and perceived as being far more in the control of the individual to check and bounce back from.


    The basis of a functional relationship may vary from couple to couple. Perceived vulnerability, for example, is interesting. For many people it may seem appealing and brings out their protective and nurturing side. How well this endures over the longer term is another thing. Needy and insecure attachments that see one person overly dependent upon another would appear doomed. In many cases this is exactly what happens, but not in all.


    Might there be a ‘birds of a feather’ aspect to this? There is a suggestion that people with depressive disorders are more likely to marry others with the similar difficulties. Depressed women, according to professor Constance Hammen, are more likely to be in marriages to men with antisocial and substance abuse disorders. This is just one example, but it seems clear that marriages where both partners have particular vulnerabilities are likely to produce more stressful home environments and have fewer personal resources to resolve difficulties.


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    By now you may be wondering, ‘what about the kids?’ That’s something I’ll be thinking about before my next post.

Published On: February 02, 2014