Academic journal article Family Relations

Relationship Quality and Depressed Affect among a Diverse Sample of Relationally Unstable Relationship Education Participants

Academic journal article Family Relations

Relationship Quality and Depressed Affect among a Diverse Sample of Relationally Unstable Relationship Education Participants

Article excerpt

Depression is estimated to affect 14.8 million adults in the United States (Kessler, Chiu, Demler, & Walters, 2005). It has been linked to increased rates of substance abuse, increased hospitalizations, and represents a major expense for society (see Hall & Wise, 1995, for a review). Because depression is such a prevalent problem, it is important to understand its correlates and possible treatments. One of the correlates that has consistently been identified in the relationship literature is marital dissatisfaction. Research has found that increased levels of depressive symptoms correlate with lower levels of marital satisfaction for self and partner (Whisman, 2001; Whisman, Uebelacker, & Weinstock, 2004). Additionally, there has been some evidence that improvement of the marital relationship may result in improvements in depressive symptoms (Jacobson, Dobson, Fruzetti, Schmaling, & Salusky, 1991; Whisman & Baucom, 2012). However, many couples, including those who experience relationship instability, may not choose not to attend therapy. They may, instead, choose to attend a Couple and Relationship Education (CRE) class (DeMaria, 2005; Markman & Rhodes, 2012). This study used a sample of 250 ethnically diverse couples who attended community CRE classes to examine whether relationally unstable participants of CRE programs reported improvements in depressed affect and rela- tionship quality, and to explore how those improvements were related to each other.

THEORETICAL ASSUMPTIONS

An ecological family systems perspective sug- gests that family subsystems are interrelated and meaningfullyinfluenceeachotherandindividual outcomes (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Whitchurch & Constantine, 1993). The processes within a marital subsystem would, therefore, affect indi- vidual subsystems (i.e., each member of the dyad) and vice versa. Application of an eco- logical family systems perspective to the study and treatment of depression implies that marital relationship processes would influence individ- ual psychopathology, such as depression, and that successful treatment of depression would influence the couple relationship.

Despite some evidence and scholarly asser- tions that the relationship between depression and marital satisfaction is bidirectional and should be treated as such (see Gupta, Coyne, & Beach, 2003; Mead, 2002), much attention has been given to the direction of effects (Proulx, Helms, & Buehler, 2007). Two prevailing sys- temic theories have been suggested to explain the relationship between depression and mari- tal satisfaction, with an emphasis on etiology. The marital discord model (Beach, Sandeen, & O'Leary, 1990) suggests that decreases in mar- ital satisfaction precipitate depression, whereas the stress generation model (Hammen, 1991) asserts that depression initially precedes and leads to marital dissatisfaction, which, in turn, mayincreasedepression.Supporthasbeenfound for both models (Beach et al., 1990; Davila, Bradbury, Cohan, & Tochluk, 1997), with some indication that relationship quality is a better predictor of depression than vice versa (Proulx et al., 2007; Whisman & Bruce, 1999).

Cowan and Cowan (2002) suggested, how- ever, that identifying the etiology of dysfunction is not necessary in the framework of providing systemic interventions. They argue that if inter- vention in a primary area effects changes in a secondary construct, there is some evidence of factors that may be targeted for effective inter- vention. Consequently, they suggest that inter- ventionists choose a theoretically informed point of intervention (e.g., relationship skills) and then test whether change in that domain accounts for variation in the outcome of interest (e.g., depression). In this study, we applied Cowan and Cowan's framework and, instead of trying to identify etiology, examined whether effective intervention at the couple level (i.e., improve- ment in the couple relationship) accounts for variation in depressed affect (A [arrow right] B). …

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