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Comparing the Interpersonal Behavior of Distressed Couples With and Without Depression


  • This project was funded in part by the Randy Gerson Memorial Research Award granted to the first author by the American Psychological Foundation.



This study compared the interpersonal behavior of distressed couples with depression in one partner (n = 23) to distressed couples without depression in either partner (n = 38).


Participants (mean age = 44 years old) were recruited at an urban outpatient mental health center. Couples discussed the three best things in their relationship, and their interactions were coded using Structural Analysis of Social Behavior (Benjamin, 1987).


Self- and partner-focused hostility were associated with actors’ and partners’ relationship distress. Actors’ hostility towards partners was positively associated with partners’ depression status, but negatively associated with partners’ depression symptoms. Actors’ control behavior was positively associated with their relationship distress. Whereas the behavior of depressed individuals did not differ from a control sample of nondepressed individuals, partners of depressed individuals displayed more partner-focused hostility and submissiveness than controls.


Results underscore the importance of considering partner effects when conceptualizing depression within distressed relationships.