Do Marital Upsets Cause Depression
We all recognize that the nature and pattern of long-term relationships has changed dramatically over the past few years. However, marriage in the traditional sense provides us with several decades of research attempts exploring the nature of depression. It's a complex issue to address but we can't ignore the fact that the nature of a relationship within marriage can have a huge bearing on the direction and development of depression in one or both parties. So, deep breath, let's try to unpack some of the issues.
There are two broad ways of looking at this. First, there's the extent to which depression results from poor marital relations and secondly there's the extent to which depression creates difficulties and disruptions within a marriage. During the 1970s when depression was viewed almost exclusively as a female malady it was common to see research findings reflecting this. Depressed women were often viewed as locked into relationships characterized by friction, hostility, poor sexual relationships and the lack of an emotional connection. There’s no reason to dispute this so far as I can see, well, beyond the obvious omission that men can be affected too. Move forward three decades and we still see strong associations between low marital satisfaction and depression and high levels of divorce.
Questions. What’s the link between depression and marital upsets? Is there something particular about marriage we have to consider? To what extent does depression lead to marital upset, or conversely, can marital upset lead to depression? I'm sure there are many more besides but I'm limiting my contribution by attempting to address those listed.
So, do marital upsets cause depression? I think I can hear people bellowing at their computer screens as they read this - “idiot, of course marital difficulties can lead to depression”. You’re right of course and I’m pretty sure this is an issue that works both ways. That is, as much as depression can result in marital problems so marital problems can result in depression. Conflict within a marriage is a highly stressful experience so it is hardly surprising that depression might follow. Dissatisfied spouses (i.e. men or women), according to a study by Whisman & Bruce (1999), are three times more likely to develop depressive episodes. What’s also important is the extent of negative expressed emotion. The higher the level of criticism the more likely it is that depression or relapse will follow. Of further significance is that depressed people within an environment of poor family functioning are less likely to recover within a period of 12 months.
I’ll continue the theme in my next post.