The Role of Relationships in Understanding the Alexithymia–Depression Link


  • This work was conducted while Heather Foran was at Stony Brook University in partial fulfilment of her doctoral dissertation. We would like to thank Gwen Poggi, Katie Sinnott, Jackie Clair, Margarita Khanina, Nicasia Jackson, Jonathan Meyers, and Denise Dubron-Vander Veer for their assistance with various aspects of the project.

Correspondence to: Heather M. Foran, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Institut für Psychologie, Abteilung für Klinische Psychologie, Psychotherapie und Diagnostik, Humboldtstr 33, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany.



Alexithymia is associated with increased depressive symptoms in both clinical and community samples. One way that alexithymia may lead to depression is through its impact on interpersonal relationships. Individuals with alexithymia report lower perceived social support, intimacy, and relationship satisfaction. Furthermore, poor relationship functioning is a clear risk factor for depressive symptoms. Given the established alexithymia–depression link and marital dysfunction–depression link, a logical next step is to examine whether relationship dysfunction (low social support, intimacy, negative relationship behaviours, and relationship dissatisfaction) mediates the association between alexithymia and depressive symptoms. The hypothesized mediation model was assessed in a sample of 104 community couples with two analytical approaches—first with cross-sectional measures using path analysis and second with daily diary measures collected over a seven-day period using a multilevel modelling approach. Poor relationship functioning mediated the association between alexithymia and depressed mood in the daily diary data and partially mediated that association with the cross-sectional measures. These results identify alexithymia as an important variable in understanding the marital functioning–depression association, and this finding has implications for treatment. Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology