Us of this paper will be on clarifying the distinction between feeling sad and being depressed as well as will demonstrate the ways in which having depression is a barrier to effective verbal and nonverbal communication specifically in married couples. Dysfunctional communication such as lack of nonverbal immediacy cues, negative word choice, inappropriate self-disclosure, and demand-withdraw style due to depression damages marital couples relationships due to rejection from their spouse and contributes to overall marital dissatisfaction.First off, it is important to distinguish from being sad and having depression as depression has more significant and detrimental effects on communication between married couples. Sadness is a negative emotion experienced with the loss of a person, goal, or sense of control (Shirai & Suzuki, 2017). Sadness is a feeling of loss or failure but it is a temporary feeling that almost all people will experience in their lives.
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Although depression includes feelings of sadness it involves mixed emotions and is an illness defined as having at least five symptoms being frequently present during a two week period such as decreased pleasure or interest in activities one used to enjoy, reduced self-care, weight loss or gain, sleeping more or less than usual, fatigue, slower motor processes, and restlessness or edginess (Durbin 2014). Depression is longer lasting in comparison to sadness where it can last from weeks, months, or years while sadness is often experienced for only minutes (Durbin 2014). Overall, sadness is a short-lived temporary emotion where depression is an enduring disorder that significantly affects how one engages with others.Theorists such as Peter Lewinsohn and J.C Coyne have developed theories on the effects of depression on communication. Lewinsohn’s behavioral theory of depression explains that those with depression suffer from social skill deficits in comparison to those that are non-depressed (Segrin 1990). Social or interpersonal skills are essential to effective communication therefore those who suffer from depression use ineffective communication styles resulting in lack of positive reinforcement from others (Segrin 1990).
The social skill deficit contributes to receiving negative messages from others making it difficult to establish and maintain close relationships overall leading to feelings of worthlessness associated with depression (Segrin 1990). Lewinsohn convey’s how poor social skills can lead to depression as well as depression can contribute to poor social skills such as slower speech, no variation in vocal pitch, using less nonverbal gestures, and having more pauses or silences during conversations (Segrin 1990). Additionally, Coyne’s Interactional Theory of Depression argues that people will try to help someone with depression but often the depressed person will ignore their attempts which can frustrate the non-depressed person and cause them to provide non-genuine reassurance ultimately reinforcing the depressed person’s dysfunctional communication style (Marcus & Nardone, 1992). The non-depressed person will then take on the depressed person’s negative feelings resulting in them rejecting the person with depression to avoid such uncomfortable feelings (Segrin & Dillard, 1992).
This theory explains that depression is maintained through the depressed person’s inappropriate communication style with their interaction partner causing their partner to take on those negative feelings. The non-depressed person then rejects the depressed person to avoid negative emotional contagion resulting in the interpersonal rejection the depressed person initially perceived (Marcus & Nardone, 1992). These theories emphasize the connection between depression and ineffective communication style or lack of social skills that directly affect the depressed person’s interpersonal relationships with others. Relevant research about depression and communication reveals its significant destructive effects on intimate relationships specifically married couples. As previously highlighted, depression affects nonverbal and verbal communication style in numerous ways which then affects relationship satisfaction as communication is central to our interpersonal connections. Important indicators of depression are expressed through distinct lack of nonverbal skills or exaggerated nonverbal expression (Ellgring 2008). Research finds that those with depression smile less, avoid eye contact, speak slow, hesitate before speaking, and often have limp body posture (Ellgring 2008).
People with depression frequently take pauses and hesitations highlighting their reduced speech productivity which makes it difficult for the interaction partner to remain focused on their interaction. These nonverbal cues communicate sadness and make it difficult for the other person to respond. Immediacy cues are vital to conveying focus and interest in what the other person has to say as well as convey communication competence. Lack of nonverbal expression during interactions specifically with your spouse conveys disinterest, boredom and disregard for what they have to say. One’s spouse is someone assumed to be someone one enjoys talking to, respects, and deeply cares about therefore receiving nonverbal messages of disinterest and detachment can damage their intimate relationship. This is consistent with Lewinsohn’s theory as the lack of nonverbal cues when communicating with one’s partner contributes to lack of positive reinforcement from the receiver due to receiving messages perceived as emotionless. Receiving these messages of disinterest strain the romantic relationship as attention and genuine concern in what the spouse expresses is appropriate, normal, and essential to maintaining their intimate bond. Depression also negatively affects verbal communication with others ultimately damaging romantic relationships as a result of constant contagious pessimism.
Research finds common linguistic patterns those with depression tend to use such as using more negatively valenced words like gloom or sad and fewer positively valenced words like joy or best when interacting with someone compared to non-depressed individuals (Newell, McCoy, Newman, Wellman, & Gardner, 2017). Research also finds that depressed individuals use more first person singular pronouns compared to non-depressed people highlighting their negative self-focus and depressed affect (Newell et al., 2017). These findings convey that people with depression tend to communicate their depression through their negative word choice which then affects those they interact with especially their spouse who they frequently interact with. The negatively valenced words affect their spouse causing them to avoid or distance themselves to prevent also feeling sad and hopeless ultimately damaging their relationship. Research supports that romantic partners such as a spouse report increased susceptibility to depressed moods which then leads to avoidance to prevent the uncomfortable depressed moods (Sharabi, Delaney, & Knobloch, 2015). Avoidance and distance from a spouse is difficult as it further contributes to feelings of worthlessness as well as strains their intimate bond. As a result marital couples resent interacting with one another instead of admiring and enjoying each other’s company.
In addition to more negative word choice and first-person singular pronouns, studies show that those with depression engage in more inappropriate self-disclosure topics that cause their partner to see their interaction as non-normative which ultimately leads to negative reactions (McCann & LaLonde, 1993). A non-depressed person is aware of appropriate communication styles dependent on the context and relationship with their interaction partner but those with depression see inappropriate styles as appropriate causing overall uncomfortable and confusing interactions. This is especially detrimental when the interaction partner is your spouse as you expect effortless interactions with them due to your close bond and interdependence but are instead experiencing difficult and distressing conversations. Distance ultimately prevents romantic partners from having meaningful and intimate experiences together. Depression contributes to negative expression that drives loved ones away and destroys close relationships because it is unpleasant to be around constant negativity.
This directly relates to Coyne’s interactional theory of depression that explains the depressed person’s constant negativity creates rejection from their partner further perpetuating the cycle of depression (Sharabi et al., 2015). It also highlights the interpersonal aspect of depression as it has significant effects on intimate relationships (Sharabi et al., 2015). Depression causes pessimistic and inappropriate disclosure that causes avoidance in marriages resulting in dissatisfied couples.Equally important, dysfunctional communication styles such as demand-withdraw and self-silencing are associated with those who suffer from depression (Uebelacker, Courtnage, & Whisman, 2003). More specifically, wife-demand and husband-withdraw interactions occur where the wife demands to engage and the husband withdraws due to wrong timing or improper setting causing conflict and messages of rejection to the wife that she already constantly receives due to her depressive illness (Uebelacker et al., 2003). This communication style is ineffective as it causes conflict to occur between the couple and results in overall reciprocated negativity. Consequently, studies have shown that this can cause the wife to self-silence or refrain from voicing her thoughts to avoid damaging interactions with her spouse (Uebelacker et al., 2003).
Wife-Demand husband-withdraw communication styles that lead to self-silencing are detrimental to the marital couple as it results in disengagement that contributes to marital frustration and resentment. Communication is necessary in intimate relationships however depression influences these harmful communication styles that damage these romantic bonds. The wife being demanding of the husband is her way of expressing her desire for intimacy however her depression affects her ability to appropriately and competently communicate due to constant pessimistic rumination (Holley, Haase, Chui, & Bloch, 2017). Depression involves the inability to regulate negative emotions influencing these destructive demand-withdraw behaviors (Holley et al., 2017). Wife-demand husband-withdraw interactions that lead to the wife self-silencing is problematic as it causes rejection, isolation, and increases depressed feelings. This is important as this may cause the marital couple to become unable to manage their romantic relationship which can unfortunately result in divorce. These poor and ineffective communication styles caused by depression also maintain depression, hinder well-being in both romantic partners, and contribute to overall marital dissatisfaction. Despite the significant impact depression has on communication styles that deteriorate marital couples there are suggestions to help couples that suffer from depression.
One recommendation is to increase self-resilience that demonstrate one’s ability to rise above difficult situations (Edward 2005). Resilience increases one’s ability to adapt to their environment, develop positive self-perceptions, and create an optimistic perspective (Edward 2005). Resilience can help buffer the negative communication styles associated with depression by helping the depressed individual develop a sense of hope that things will get better. Research also reveals that more understanding, compassion, and emotional support from social networks and one’s spouse helps eliminate destructive engagement (Pauley & Hesse, 2009). Having a supportive and empathetic spouse can help encourage positive affect that can improve their romantic relationship as well as promote engagement rather than avoidance. Another resource to help depressed individuals is positive psychology that helps reduce negative rumination by replacing it with positive thoughts that enhance mindset and well-being (Donaldson, Csikszentmihalyi, & Nakamura, 2011).
Increasing optimism can increase self-esteem buffering depressive symptoms that lead to ineffective communication styles. Those with depression do not need to let their illness consume their daily life and should increase resilience, seek social support, and increase positive thoughts to prevent destructive communication styles that ruin their intimate relationships. These resources as well as traditional marital therapy or counseling can help save marriages and prevent divorce by improving marital communication which then can improve marital satisfaction.Depression not only affects the person suffering from the illness but negatively affects their communication styles in detrimental ways that impact marital couples intimate bond and relationship satisfaction. Depression impacts the marriage by consisting of constant negativity, lack of immediacy, diminished speech productivity, inappropriate self-disclosure, unproductive demand-withdraw styles, and avoidance that contribute to lack of intimacy as well as marital dissatisfaction.
Depression significantly impacts marital communication styles that cause conflict, stress, and severely influence one’s overall health and well-being. Extreme cases of depression within married couples result in isolation, divorce, and suicide due to messages of rejection and worthlessness. While current research reveals the effects of depression on communication and marital relationships, most focus on heterosexual couples. Future research should include how depression affects communication differently with same sex couples and should also explore interracial couples as culture influences expression. It is also important to consider the effects of depression on marital couples with children and the effects on the children’s communication styles, relationships, and well-being. Depression is an illness that consumes one’s daily lives and intimate relationships but it is important to be aware that there are resources to help. Being aware that depression affects verbal and nonverbal communication matters because the sooner it is detected the sooner resources and social support networks can be sought out to help buffer depression from damaging marriages and intimate relationships.
Distinction Between Feeling Sad and Being Depressed. (2019, Apr 15).
Retrieved February 1, 2023 , from
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