Husbands' Hostile, Anti-Social Behaviors Increase Wives' Symptoms of Depression

In the United States, nearly 10 percent of the population suffers from a depressive disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While the causes of depression vary, a new study at the University of Missouri reveals that marital hostility is a contributing factor. MU researcher, Christine Proulx, found that husbands' hostile and anti-social behaviors increased their wives' symptoms of depression over time.

"In the study, husbands' marital hostility was significantly related to increases in wives' symptoms of depression," said Proulx, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. "The more hostile and anti-social behavior exhibited by husbands, the more depressed their wives were after three years. These findings suggest that husbands' treatment of their wives significantly impacts their psychological well-being and that hostile behavior has a lasting effect on couples that continues throughout their marriages."

The researchers found no significant relationship between wives' hostile behavior and husbands' depression, unless significant life events, such as a death in the family or a job loss, were present. Additionally, warm, positive behavior from husbands lessened the negative impact of their hostile behavior.

Anti-social behaviors are those that are self-centered, defiant or show a lack of constraint; hostile behaviors are those that are angry, critical or rejecting. To measure hostile and anti-social behaviors, the researchers watched and coded twenty-minute videos of couples interacting in their homes. Symptoms of depression were self-reported by those in the study.

"It's critical that professionals ask people experiencing depression about their close relationships and recognize that their spouse's behavior influences how they feel about life and themselves, especially among women," Proulx said. "It is important to intervene at the couple level and make spouses aware that how they act toward each other has a long-term effect on their emotional and physical well-being."

The study, "Moderators of the Link between Marital Hostility and Change in Spouses' Depressive Symptoms," was recently published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Contact: Emily Martin
(573) 882-3346
martinem@missouri.edu