It probably comes as no surprise that an unhappy marriage can contribute to depression, but what does this look like on day-to-day level? A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows that short-term conflict patterns can have long-term negative outcomes for married people.
Have you ever heard the expression “happy wife, happy life?” For many people, the person they choose to marry becomes the person they spend the most time with, share assets with, sleep next to, and count on the most for love and support in their lives. Unfortunately, all this time and responsibility can be taxing, and strains or conflicts in a marriage can lead to depression.
Past research has focused on overarching timespans and long-term conflict and depression in regard to marital decline, but this study seeks to bridge a gap in knowledge by exploring how daily dynamics and interactions in a marriage are associated with depressed mood over a 10-year period.
Stephanie J. Wilson and Christina M. Marini utilized data from a pre-existing study where data was collected through phone interviews and self-report questionnaires. This data was collected in two waves, the first of which was 1995-1996 and the second of which was 2004-2006. At both waves, a subsample completed a daily diary phone interview 8 days in a row. Participants completed measures on their daily depressed mood, their depressed mood in the past month, their perceived marital risk, and their daily stressors. The majority of participants were married at both waves of the study.
Results showed that on days where people had a fight, tension, or negative interaction with their partners, their depressed mood levels were higher. Additionally, more frequent marital problems were associated with higher levels of depressed mood for the past month and higher levels of marital risk or feeling as though their marriage would not work out.
At the second wave, a decade later, the participants who showed more reactivity about marital conflict in the initial wave were likely to show higher levels of past-month depression. This supports the idea that seemingly small, everyday marital problems can lead to bigger issues, such as long-term depression.
“Our finding underscores the unique importance of discord-related daily depressive reactivity for understanding past-month depressed mood—beyond chronic, preexisting depressed mood,” Wilson and Marini explained. “Indeed, this analysis revealed depressive reactivity as a novel, everyday hallmark of depressed mood in partnered individuals. Moreover, this association was specific to marital discord reactivity, not explained by generalized reactivity to any stressor, which highlights the unique explanatory value of mood responses to daily marital experiences.”
This study took important steps into better understanding how daily mechanics of relationships can contribute to long-term outcomes. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that the original sample was predominantly white, educated, and heterosexual; future research could employ a more diverse sample. Additionally, gender identity was not provided, which did not allow this research to delve into gender differences.
“The current study identified two key marital patterns, depressive reactivity to daily discord and the frequency of marital discord in daily life, as novel factors that are relevant for past month depressed mood and marital risk,” the researchers concluded. “As the first study to link daily marital dynamics to 10-year, prospective changes in past-month depressed mood, these results uncover new insights about how patterns of marital interaction and depressive responses in daily life underlie long-term trends in depression. Grounded in a multitemporal perspective, findings support the previously untested idea that everyday marital discord and reactivity to such discord may index, and perhaps mobilize, slower-moving shifts in depression across an entire decade.”
The study, “The days add up: Daily marital discord and depressive reactivity linked to pas-month depressed mood and marital risk across 10 years“, was authored by Stephanie J. Wilson and Christina M. Marini.