Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Self-Verification and Depressive Symptoms in Marriage and Courtship: A Multiple Pathway Model

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Self-Verification and Depressive Symptoms in Marriage and Courtship: A Multiple Pathway Model

Article excerpt

Self-verification theory posits that people prefer feedback from partners that confirms their selfviews. Self-verifying feedback is positively associated with both enhanced relationship quality and increased stability of self-views. In turn, relationship quality is directly associated with depression. Therefore, we hypothesize that self-verifying feedback may lead to decreased depressive symptoms by increasing relationship satisfaction. In addition, self-verifying feedback leads to more stable self-views. Accordingly, we hypothesize that self-verifying feedback should lead to decreased depression for persons with high selfesteem, but increased depression for persons with low self-esteem. Samples of married (Study 1; n = 138) and dating (Study 2; n = 258) women were employed to test these hypotheses. Although complex, the predicted patterns were observable in both samples. Theoretical and clinical implications for marriage and courtship are discussed.

Key Words: dating, depression, marriage, self-esteem, selfverification.

Self-verification theory (Swann, 1983) posits strong motivation to have others view the self in a manner that is consistent with preexisting selfconceptions. The allure of feedback that verifies both positive and negative elements of an individual's self-view is assumed to stem from the many benefits of self-verification (Swann, SteinSeroussi, & Giesler, 1992). These benefits include an increased sense of predictability, a heightened sense of self-knowledge, and increased quality of marital relationships (e.g., Katz, Beach, & Anderson, 1996; Schafer, Wickrama, & Keith, 1996; Swann, De La Ronde, & Hixon, 1994; Swann, Hixon, & De La Ronde, 1992) or dating relationships (Katz, Anderson, & Beach, in press).

However, self-verification may have a complex association with depression and may incur costs, as well as benefits. On the one hand, individuals may benefit from self-verifying feedback because it increases relationship satisfaction (e.g., Katz et al., 1996; Swann, Hixon, et al., 1992). Increased relationship satisfaction in turn, may, decrease depressive symptomatology (Beach, Smith, & Fincham, 1994). On the other hand, individuals may not benefit from self-verifying feedback when it verifies and stabilizes negative self-views (Swann & Predmore, 1985). Self-verifying feedback may lead to more depressive symptoms among persons with negative self-views but fewer symptoms among persons with positive self-views. We propose a multiple pathway model to explain these different pathways to depressive symptoms.


Self-Verifying Feedback, Relationship Quality, and Depression

A growing body of evidence indicates that selfverifying feedback contributes to relationship adjustment. Diverse measures of relationship quality, such as satisfaction (Katz et al., 1996), commitment (Ritts & Stein, 1994; Swann, Hixon, et al., 1992), and intimacy (Katz et al., 1996; Swann et al., 1994) are positively related to selfverifying evaluations by marital partners.

In turn, relationship quality is associated with depression (e.g., Beach, Sandeen, & O'Leary, 1990; McLeod & Eckberg, 1993; Weissman, 1987). Cross-sectional studies cannot provide evidence of a causal effect of relationship variables on depression. However, available longitudinal evidence does support the claim that relationship discord may lead to later depressive symptoms (e.g., Beach et al., 1994). For instance, O'Leary, Christian, and Mendall (1994) found that maritally discordant newlyweds had a tenfold increase in risk for depression, compared with nondiscordant spouses. This correlation remained significant even after controlling for the partner's reported levels of depressive symptoms and marital discord.

Taken together, these findings suggest that self-verifying feedback from partners may be associated with higher levels of satisfaction, which may be associated with lower levels of depression. …

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