Marital satisfaction, conflict communication, attachment style and psychological distress in couples with a hospitalized depressed patient


Gilbert M. D. Lemmens, MD, Department of
Psychiatry, University Hospital Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer
33, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
Tel: +32 16 332620;
Fax: +32 16 332640;


Background:  There has been fairly consistent empirical support for the association between major depressive disorder and marital dissatisfaction. However, this evidence is limited mostly to out-patient and population-based samples. Further, the role of possible mediating factors such as attachment style and conflict communication are less well investigated in major depression.

Objective:  The present study aims to investigate whether couples with a depressed partner and nonclinical couples differ in marital satisfaction, attachment style, psychological distress and conflict communication. Gender differences are also investigated.

Methods:  Seventy-seven couples, who participated in a family intervention trial, were compared with 77 age- and gender-matched nonclinical couples.

Results:  The depressed patients reported more psychological distress and attachment difficulties and less marital satisfaction than their partners and the nonclinical couples. Partners perceived their relationship as more satisfying than the nonclinical couples. The clinical couples reported less mutual constructive and more mutual avoidant communication in their relationship compared with the nonclinical couples. Finally, female depressed patients reported higher levels of psychological symptoms and were more avoidant attached than male patients.

Conclusions:  This study shows important differences in several individual and relational characteristics between couples with a depressed partner and nonclinical couples. Further research will be necessary to clarify whether the investigated psychosocial variables play a causal and/or a maintaining role in depression.