Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The present investigation examined the nature of the relationships among marital interaction, marital distress and depression. Forty-six couples served as subjects, comprising the following five groups: ten maritally distressed, depressed psychiatric out-patients and their spouses, seven maritally distressed and seven maritally nondistressed, nondepressed psychiatric out-patients and their spouses, and 22 nondepressed, nonpsychiatric couples from the community, ten of whom were maritally distressed and twelve maritally nondistressed. The behavior of both spouses was assessed, using both self-report and behavioral measures of marital communication, gathered from multiple perspectives (self, spouse, observer). Measures were taken once early in treatment and again, two months later. Stability, consistency across raters and specificity of observed effects were assessed.;The results showed good stability over time. The only significant changes were a decrease in the depression scores of the depressed patients and a shift in the speakers' nonverbal behavior during the high-conflict task. All subjects and spouses also became nonverbally less positive and more neutral over time.;The results examining consistency across raters depended on the coder's perspective. Generally, the subjects' coding was the most positive, the spouses were less positive, and the coding of the independent observers was the most negative. Although participants in all of the groups showed accurate recall of their coding, both the participants and their spouses in all groups were found to overestimate matches between intent and impact of messages (concordance). These results are discussed with respect to both realism and negative distortion hypotheses, with neither receiving unequivocal support.;Finally, with respect to specificity, different types of pathology were found to be related to particular communication deficits. Although there were no purely depression-specific findings, depressed couples showed lower spouse concordance than did nonpsychiatric couples. Marital distress was characterized by disruptions in areas of love and cooperation and lower overall quality of interaction. Any pathology was associated with deficits in positive nonverbal behavior, lower congruence of content and affect for positive content messages, disruptions in power, dominance and trust areas, self-reports of poorer communicative ability, and problems in areas of involvement with the spouse; the latter two variables seem to be further disrupted if both marital distress and psychopathology were present.;Overall, the findings relating to stability and specificity challenge interactional models of depression and studies of marital interaction of depressives that claim depression-specific disturbances. Rather, a more reciprocal model was proposed to describe the relationship between depression and marital distress, in which communication problems may be more symptomatic of the marital distress. Treatment implications, in light of this model, were discussed. In particular, marital therapy for couples with a depressed spouse deserves further attention.



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