Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Dozois, David J. A.


Romantic relationship discord is prevalent in depression and has been repeatedly associated with poor prognosis for the disorder. Although a significant body of literature has examined the ways in which depressive self-schema structures (SSS) are implicated in depression, a paucity of research has investigated the role of partner-schema structures (PSS) in the disorder. The Dyadic Partner Schema Model (DPSM; Wilde & Dozois, 2019) was recently developed as a novel theoretical model of the mechanisms that maintain relationship distress in depression. This dissertation provided the first direct empirical examination of the DPSM by examining four main research questions: (1) how are SSS, PSS, and depression interrelated, (2) are PSS uniquely predictive of dysfunctional relationship dynamics above and beyond SSS and depression, (3) how stable is schema organization over time, and (4) how do SSS, PSS, depression, and dysfunctional relationship dynamics influence one another across time? In a sample of 370 community individuals recruited online via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), schema structures (self and partner), relationship dysfunction (self-reported distress, attributions, and communication patterns), and depressive symptoms were assessed at baseline, 3 months, and 6 month follow up. Findings provided support for some, but not all, assumptions of the DPSM. In support of the model, cross-sectional analyses revealed that depressive symptoms were associated with a pervasively negative PSS, which were, in turn, associated with relationship distress, maladaptive relationship attributions, and dysfunctional communication behaviours. After controlling for depressive symptoms, PSS were uniquely associated with relationship distress and attributions, whereas both PSS and SSS were associated with dysfunctional communication behaviours. Consistent with hypotheses, both PSS and SSS remained stable across 3- and 6-month follow-up periods. Unexpectedly, PSS were not predictive of (nor predicted by) changes in relationship and mood variables over time; however, changes in SSS were predicted by relationship variables over time. Some evidence emerged to suggest that SSS predict later changes in PSS; however, this finding should be interpreted cautiously as it was inconsistent across models. The implications of the findings for further development of the DPSM are discussed, and broader implications for the research literature and clinical applications to depression and relational discord addressed. Areas for future research are highlighted.

Summary for Lay Audience

Many individuals with depression experience problems in their romantic relationships. Moreover, these co-occurring relationship difficulties tend to worsen symptoms of depression. As such, it is especially important to understand factors that maintain relationship difficulties in depression. A recently proposed theory (the Dyadic Partner Schema Model; DPSM, Wilde & Dozois, 2019) suggests that depression is associated with highly negative mental representations of one’s romantic partner, which subsequently contribute to unhelpful ways of thinking about and relating to those partners. This dissertation tested several hypotheses advanced by the DPSM in a sample of 370 individuals who completed a series of online measures at three time points (upon study entry, 3-months post entry, and 6-months post entry). The following outcomes were measured at each time point: mental representations of self and partner, ways of thinking, feeling, and relating to a romantic partner, and depressed mood. Data analyses revealed that depressive symptoms were associated with highly negative mental representations of a partner, and that these representations were associated with greater self-reports of relationship distress, unhelpful ways of thinking about a romantic partner, and dysfunctional communication behaviours between partners. Moreover, these negative representations were shown to persist across 3- and 6-month follow up periods, suggesting that they remain stable over time. Although mental representations of one’s partner were expected to predict changes in thoughts, feelings, and behaviours towards a romantic partner over time – and vice versa – results did not support this hypothesis. Unexpectedly, however, changes in relationship variables over time were predictive of later changes in mental representations held for oneself. The results of the current study offer novel findings to the scientific literature surrounding the mechanisms that link depression and relationship distress. In addition, the findings may help to inform clinicians treating individuals and couples who present with depression and relationship discord by highlighting the importance of targeting mental representations of partners in therapy. Finally, the results have important implications for society more broadly as they may help individuals to understand how thoughts, feelings, and behaviours towards a romantic partner may contribute to their own ongoing distress.