Angry Husbands Linked to Depression in Wives

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Depression in women can be fueled by hostile husbands, a new study suggests. But the reverse seems not to be true.

Additionally, warm, positive behavior from husbands lessened the negative impact of their hostile behavior.

In the study, researchers watched 20-minute clips of 416 married couples interacting at home. The videos were coded for two behavior types: anti-social behaviors, which are those that are self-centered, defiant or show a lack of constraint; and hostile behaviors that are angry, critical or rejecting. Participants in the study also reported any symptoms of depression.

For instance, being snippy or curt with a spouse, interrupting her, eye-rolling, sneers and yelling were considered hostile behaviors.

"In the study, husbands' marital hostility was significantly related to increases in wives' symptoms of depression," said study researcher Christine Proulx of the University of Missouri. "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."

On the flip side, the researchers didn't find any link between wives' angry behaviors and their husbands' depression — unless there was a significant life event at the time, including a death in the family or a job loss.

"It is possible that women's well-being is more closely tied to the well-being of their close relationships than is the case for men," Proulx told LiveScience. "So they may be more vulnerable than husbands are when there is hostility in the marriage."

But a greater number of recent, stressful events might put husbands at risk for being negatively impacted by their wives' hostility, according to Proulx.

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 husband's angry behavior could be a contributing factor.

"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 was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.