Supportive partners protect relationship quality in people with depression or stress

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  • Supportive partners improve the quality of relationships
  • A recent study focused on newlyweds and observed their relationships for three years
  • It found that responsive and supportive partners helped alleviate stress and depression in these relationships

Having a supportive and responsive spouse minimises the negative impacts of an individual's depression or external stress on their romantic relationship, according to a new study. 

The research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science investigated how responsive partners buffered the degree to which depressive symptoms and external stress predicted declines in relationship adaptation in newlyweds.

Assessing the couples

The researchers enrolled 195 newlywed couples and examined how individuals' depressive symptoms and stress interacted with observer-coded partner responsiveness during marital conflict discussions.

The study took place over three years. Couples visited the lab annually and were videotaped while they discussed major conflicts in their relationships.

Relationship as a place of comfort

Researchers observed that persons with signs of mild to moderate depression tended to experience a drop in marital quality from one year to the next. 

In a similar manner, a person's external stress resulted in a drop in marital quality over time, unless their partner was highly responsive, supportive and accepting. 

Therefore, a responsive partner who focuses effort and energy to listen to their partner, makes an effort to understand them, and is supportive in a helpful way while being cognizant of their partner's needs, results in better relationship quality.

"When people have a vulnerability like being depressed or having a lot of external stress, having a responsive partner seems to protect them against a sharp drop in relationship quality from one time point to the next," said study author Prof Paula Pietromonaco in a press statement.

"If your partner is high in responsiveness, you don't show any more of a decline than people who have low external stress. But if your partner is low in responsiveness, you drop an average of over seven points, and that is a large effect," Pietromonaco added.

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