The Link Between Depression and Relational Uncertainty

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

More than three decades of research have shown people with depression are less satisfied in their romantic relationships. But questions remain about exactly why these two feelings go together.

This question is explored in an article appearing in the latest issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Twin sisters Leanne Knobloch, of the University of Illinois, and Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, of The Family Institute at Northwestern University, put their heads together to look at a long-standing question about what explains the association between depressive symptoms and relationship quality. The sisters' research shows that relational uncertainty could be one explanation.

Relational uncertainty is how sure individuals are about their perceptions of involvement in a relationship. It has three sources:

  • Self-uncertainty encompasses the questions people have about their own relationship involvement, such as, "How certain am I about my view of this relationship?"
  • Partner uncertainty involves questions about a partner's relationship involvement, such as, "How certain am I about where my partner wants this to go?"
  • Relationship uncertainty involves questions about the relationship status, such as "How certain am I about the future of this relationship?"

The study of couples experiencing depressive symptoms or relationship problems resulted in three main findings:

  • Those people with more severe depressive symptoms reported more relationship distress.
  • People experiencing more relational uncertainty were less satisfied with their relationship.
  • Women's depressive symptoms predicted all three sources of their relational uncertainty, which in turn predicted both men's and women's relationship quality. For men, only the self source of relational uncertainty acted as a mediator.

The findings could suggest treatment options. For example, working through relational uncertainty issues in psychotherapy may help alleviate depressive symptoms. Alternatively, treating depression might help individuals achieve more relational certainty, leading to more satisfying relationships.

"People suffering from depressive symptoms may wrestle with more questions about their romantic relationship, which may be dissatisfying," says Knobloch. "If we find ways to help people address their uncertainty about their relationship, then their depressive symptoms might not be so debilitating for their romantic relationships."

Mithu Lucraft
[email protected]

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 16, 2010
Last Updated:
September 16, 2010