Press Room

Depression: A Barrier to Communication for Couples?

February 13, 2015
New Research
Health, Relationships

Washington, DC - A massive 6.7 percent of the U.S. population suffers from depressive disorders each year. Along with causing pessimism, irritability, and exhaustion, depression also affects people’s communication and their ability to maintain relationships. “The Role of Relational Uncertainty in Topic Avoidance among Couples with Depression,” published in the National Communication Association’s journal, Communication Monographs, evaluates how depression and relational uncertainty within couples correspond with communication behaviors.

Depressed individuals tend to withdraw from negativity and social challenges. In part, depressed individuals avoid talking about sensitive topics to cope with inhibition, to manage strong emotions, and to bypass conflict. Avoidance can be detrimental to relationships, causing problems to remain unresolved, missed bonding opportunities, and a lack of closeness.

The researchers examined relational uncertainty among depressed couples as a reason for communication avoidance. They hypothesized that depressed couples who are uncertain about the status of their relationship would be uncomfortable talking about sensitive topics. Their study examined 126 couples, one or both of whom had been diagnosed with depression, most of whom were married, and almost half of whom were parents. Both partners completed an online survey measuring depressive symptoms, relational uncertainty, and topic avoidance. Interestingly, individuals who were uncertain about their relationship reported more topic avoidance. Other differences were observed between men vs. women, cohabiting vs. married individuals, and depressed vs. non-depressed partners.

“Our results suggest that relational uncertainty may be a site of intervention for helping people with depression be more comfortable discussing challenging issues,” says Leanne K. Knobloch, a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois and lead author of the study. “Our findings are a step toward unravelling the complexities of avoidance among depressed couples.”

Beyond showing that depression and relational uncertainty predict topic avoidance, the findings also have ramifications for clinical treatments for helping depressed couples maintain satisfying ties. The researchers urge further research to identify ways to halt the cycle of depression, relational uncertainty, and avoidance.





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