October 10, 2004

Marital Satisfaction Affected by Both Spouse’s Mental Health, Says New Study

Depression rather than anxiety appears to disrupt the relationship more

WASHINGTON - New research examines why a person's mental health is important for maintaining a satisfying marriage and how either partner can influence the other's marital happiness. These findings are reported on in the October issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

In a sample of 774 married couples from seven states in the U.S., researchers Mark A. Whisman, Ph.D., and Lauren M. Weinstock, M.S., of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Lisa A. Uebelacker, Ph.D., of Brown University Medical School assessed each partners' level of depression and anxiety with the MMPI-2 scale along with their marital satisfaction to find out if one partners' pathology was associated with his or her view of the relationship and/or the partner's view of the relationship. Specifically, the researchers examined how much each person's marital satisfaction was predicted by his or her own level of depression and anxiety and/or by his or her spouse's level of depression and anxiety.

Results from the research show that each spouse's level of anxiety and depression predicted not only their own marital satisfaction but their spouse's as well. The more anxious and/or depressed either spouse was, the more dissatisfied he or she was with the marriage. Interestingly, depression was found to influence both husbands and wives more than anxiety in how satisfied they felt about the marriage. But only a spouse's depression level affected the other spouse's marital satisfaction. When a spouse suffers from anxiety, but not depression, the affect on the marital partner was less.

Evidence has shown that people living with a depressed person report feeling more burdened and upset by the person's depressive symptoms, said the authors. "It may be that the scope or magnitude of these burdens are not as great for people living with an anxious person, thereby diminishing the connection between one person's anxiety and his or her partner's satisfaction," said Dr. Whisman. Furthermore, a depressed partner may have a negative worldview that encompasses how he or she views his or her partner and relationship. In contrast, a partner with anxiety may view the world in terms of expecting harm or failure but may not view his or her relationship as seemingly negative compared with a partner suffering from depression, added Whisman.

The study also found no gender differences in the levels of marital satisfaction by either husbands or wives who had similar anxiety and depression symptoms. There were also no differences between the sexes in the degree to which a husband's or wife's psychopathology affecting the other spouse's marital satisfaction. Furthermore, the authors found that marital dissatisfaction was the highest when both partners in a couple reported high levels of depression.

These findings show how important it is to evaluate both partners' mental health when dissatisfaction occurs in a marriage, said Dr. Whisman. "Seeking help when trouble starts may prevent further declines in marital functioning and lead to improvements in treatments for married couples where one or both spouses are suffering from depression (and possibly other psychological problems). Dealing with each partners' psychological well-being may help to prevent dissolution of the marriage."

Article: "Psychopathology and Marital Satisfaction: The Importance of Evaluating Both Partners," Mark A. Whisman, Ph.D., and Lauren M. Weinstock, M.S., University of Colorado at Boulder; Lisa A. Uebelacker, Ph.D., Brown University Medical School and Butler Hospital; Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 72, No. 5.

Reporters: Mark A. Whisman, PhD can be reached by phone at work (303) 492-8569 or by Email.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.