How a stressful marriage can lead to depression

How a stressful marriage can lead to depression

Turning your frown “upside down” may be harder than you think if you experience ongoing marital stress. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published in the journal Psychophysiology, those who experience chronic marital stress are less able to savor positive experiences, a hallmark of depression.

Researchers asked participants to complete questionnaires rating their stress, asking questions such as how often they felt let down by their spouse. They were also screened for depression.  After about nine years, the process was repeated. In year 11 of the project, participants were taken to a lab where the electrical activity of their “frowning muscle” was measured when shown a series of images, some positive, some negative, and some neutral. Participants who reported higher marital stress had a shorter-lived response to positive images than their more satisfied counterparts. This type of response has been documented in depressed individuals in other studies.

Over the years, a number of studies have shown that married individuals are generally healthier and happier than their counterparts.  However, marriage can also be one of the most significant sources of long-lasting social stress.

“Stress, from any source, can lead to a cycle of increased dissatisfaction (depression) and increased stress,” says Dr. Carmen Chase, psychiatrist and medical director for the mental health unit at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Illinois. “When the original or main stress is identified as coming from the marital relationship, it is recommended that the couple seek counseling to repair the relationship. The skills learned in marital counseling are often applicable to many areas of life and can result in a happier life overall.”

Study leader Richard Davidson is hoping that the next step is to help people change their weakened ability to enjoy positive experiences, to enable them to become more resilient to stress.

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3 Comments

  1. I didn’t need any kind of study to know this, my “marriage” is a sham, it’s on paper only and
    each day gets harder and harder to deal with.
    I can’t leave for financial reasons and that just makes the coping that much more difficult.
    My depression and anxiety have grown to the extent I’m told I’m beyond help:(:(

    At my age (68), theoretically, I should be able to relax and enjoy my “golden years” with my spouse but such is not the case.

    Being “invisible” in any relationship is bad enough but after 38 yrs., it’s beyond “bad”.

  2. cordelia_79720 May 15, 2014 at 8:13 pm · Reply

    Marrital Incompatibility becomes apparent at any age, teens/20’s/30’s/40’s/50’s and believe it or not, 70’s/80’s …The question is,being absolutely honest with yourself, why/who did you marry originally, when did you realize they weren’t who you thought, or, who they were wasn’t what you needed…at that point,why did you continue to stay then…and why is it so unbearable
    now ??????? ? Sometimes we are so consumed by all the “musts” and “shoulds” and “ego-fulfillment needs” that we literally bury ourselves, our very mind-heart-soul in order to do what we think we must, so that, our little life becomes dictated by the alarm clock and mundane responsibilities of work, duties, tasks…subliminally the angst buillds up because nothing seems personally fulfilling, nothing is enough but there is always one greater reason that we must “try ever harder, do one other thing to fix what must be wrong” …It seems the heart thinks it wants one thing, the mind thinks it needs another thing, and the spirit is just miserable enough to convince us to “be still and pray more, pray harder”…accept what is.

    Then, if the day comes when one accepts the incompatibiility, that one day is the day one realizes and accepts that there is something you cannot live without or you will where you stand, never take another breath, …and that day, the pain of self-denial of years simply will not any longer be denied, and that day, the sublimated pain transforms to a passion for a new or different life…and sometimes, that new life is a clearly defined alternative, in which case, you pack your bags and depart, nothing left/nothing more to say to the incompatible partner, the only thing to negotiate is the regret for having not done it sooner,made worse with the years of endurance, only to be ameliorated by self-honesty and self-forgiveness…”readiness is all” i.e., we do what we can when we can, and that must console us. Then, there is the brave soul who must depart but who knows not to where, knows no alternative, but ona mission of self-indulgent discovery, a necessity because one could not longer find oneself after living under the burden of must’s, should’s, ought to’s, expectations of others, unfulfilling ego-fulfillments. At that point, consolation isn’t necessary, departing and doing is, and that discovery mode is full of new things so very different from anything/anyone previously inone’s life.
    Either way, it’s the embracing of Life and living forpersonallfulfillment and happiness, no more excuses, no more attribution for the discomfort, … just honest confrontation with self and other(s) psychologically [not necessary/even unfruitful] to confront others with regret, remorse, disappointment since all that is merely sour grapes atop the wrong cake anyay…noone’s fault…when it was ‘good’ or ‘okay’ it was just that…expecting more, waiting for more, wringing out every drop of blood/breath to try to get more/different was a mistake on both parts …the longer that mistake persists, the harder, the more painful the realization…Sometimes, the delay has been caused by diverting attentions elsewhere, e.g., extended family or child(ren) …and that too merely piles on the pain and suffering because of the complexities/compounding of the digression and involving others in one’s mistake, making others fulfill which in their heart theyalways knew theycouldnot…thus,in the case of a child(ren) the damage of compelling the child to carry the burden of fulfilling you, making/keeping you happy, child even deferring his/her own fulfillment and growth/living to meet your needs is a greatly damaging burden placed upon a child(ren) which they subsequently carry with them their whole life, and only iff they get intervention will they be able to lay down their burden created by the dysfunctional relationship of the ‘child having had to parent the parent’ will that child be able to be happy, and raise children who are happy. In this latter case, perhaps the departing one owes a bit of retrospective disentanglement to the innocents collaterally damaged by the familial dysfunction created by the lack of honesty, lack of self-confrontation….as one embarks on the necessary discovery in search of personal identity and personal fulfillment…wherever it may take you.

    And if you’re fortunate, you will find something which really fulfills you as a person, and maybe you will find someone whoenjoys the same fulfillment, or not, but personal contentment will give you great peace and satisfaction with your life so that you can enjoy any Other people, or not.

    You can start tomorrow…think tonight of one thing you have never experienced or tried which even mildly interests you …and tomorrow, go do it …no questions,no excuses, just do it …enjoy it for whatever it is…and if you find once was enough, so be it…move on to the next different experience tomorrow …and tomorrowand tomorrow and tomorrow…and one day soon, you’ll find something to pursue further…on a separate path …something which is comfortable and satisfying without great effort…fulfilling and …your self-identity will blossom …and then you’ll know what it is which must fill the rest of your life …

    As far as age, some people die in car accidents …teens, young adults, 30’s/40’s …some die of illness or genetic defects, some die of sudden catastrophic health crisis, … everyone dies at some point in their life….the point is to Live one’s Life n a fulfilling way …every moment of one’s life …before one dies …however that may happen …

    I don’t know how helpful that was…but it was given from the heart in all sincererity…thng is, each of us must be honest with ourselves, know what we’re doing [not stumble from one escape after another via drugs/alcohol/whatever] , and most importantly, make the choice(s) for that which fulfills us as individuals … and act on the choice …

    As for the logistics of doing what you choose, there are support groups who are good for that kind of help …

    Good luck, may you find that which fulfills you and gives you a sense of identity …

  3. cordelia_79720 May 15, 2014 at 8:55 pm · Reply

    Tears witheld….I grew up in a very complex life…of complex people, of complex situations, of complex and different challenges for me to adapt to … the weak ones being bothersome for their lack of self-satisfaction with which they had subliminal though unconscious ways of inflicting upon me…the strong ones were like the elders out of the Tolkien Tales, bigger than life and solid as granite …they were self-satisfied, knew who they were, what they were doing, and where they were going…at all times…and I floated amongst those wonderful beings in great happiness and contentment…that has been my strength and my weakness as an adult…I carry so much of them within me, and yet, there are times when their absence is so incredibly overwhelming that I almost cannot bear it. That is the problemwith being loved and loving deeply…the loss is inconsoleable at moments.

    Having explained that little bit of context, … as a young child of about 2 years, being both sensitive, aware and intelligent of the ways of adults, my subliminally unhappy parents were
    together with me and together brought out their unspoken, underlying, unhappiness with each other which I always felt but felt compelled to ”make them happy’ … and when they went off in different directions each doing their own thing, I was relieved as usual…but it was so very tiresome to have to make them happy and emotionally have to carry around the burden of their uncomfortable togetherness, I went to my grandfather, the wisest one who seemed to know everything without having to be told …and this time, the burden poured forth…me with shirley temple curls and big tears pouring out of my eyes… my grandfather turned to me and said “why are you crying?’ his velvety blue eyes staring deeply into mine, giving me every ounce of his conscious thought and attention [something he have rarely to anyone besides me and the elders] …and I explained about my parents being such a burden and he said he knew, he knew their problem and had talked with each of them, but he now would tell them what they needed to do because they shouldn’t lay their ‘problem’ upon me…[and he did…they did…and they divorced…went their own ways…remaried other people…mostly leaving me in peace]
    but…my grandfather told me…’a lesson for life’ …”do not cry…crying only hurts you, Love, ….it doesn’t fix anything, ….it doesn’t change anything, …. it only hurts you …and he said he loved me too much to see me hurting, and it hurt him to see me hurt, and I didn’t want him to feel hurt for me, did I? …so, not to cry, ever… feel all the feelings that made me cry and channel them into changing things, into fixing things…but never try to change other people, only they could change themselves … ”

    and since that day, I cannot cry…when something upsetting happens, I can feel all my energy
    redirect …my mind starts thinking how to fix things, how to change things needing to be changed … but never cry …

    …until I am alone …and then, tears just pour uncontrollably …rivers of tears … all the strength
    I display in public requires walls around my emotions …walls which fall down when I feel safe I suppose … and I find it is in those moments of deep emotion that I miss the ones whom I loved
    so much I can hardly bear it …

    This stifled emotional spirit is especially frustrated because the society we live in nowadays prefers us all to be ‘politically correct robots’ asking nothing, just doing what our role expects of us …and calmly, steadily carrying on…

    and so, one does …

About the Author

Lynn Hutley
Lynn Hutley

Lynn Hutley, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs and marketing at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital in central Illinois. Having grown up in a family-owned drug store, it is no surprise that Lynn has spent almost 18 years working in the health care industry. She has a degree in human resources management from Illinois State University and is always ready to tackle Trivia Night.