Informative Disagreements: Associations Between Relationship Distress, Depression, and Discrepancy in Interpersonal Perception Within Couples

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Family Process

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This study evaluated the associations between relationship distress, depression symptoms, and discrepancy in interpersonal perception within couples. After completing a series of discussion tasks, couples (N = 88) rated their behavior using the circumplex‐based Structural Analysis of Social Behavior Model (SASB; Benjamin, 1979, 1987, 2000). Overall, couple members were strikingly similar in their interpersonal perceptions, and tended to see themselves as friendly, reciprocal in their focus, and balanced between connection and separateness. As hypothesized, however, perceptual discrepancy was related to relationship distress and depression. Relationship distress was associated with discrepancy regarding transitive behavior focused on the partner, while depression was associated with disagreement about intransitive, self‐focused behavior. Analysis of affiliation and autonomy revealed that relationship distress was associated with seeing oneself as reacting with more hostility than the partner sees, and perceiving one's partner as more hostile, more controlling, and less submissive than he or she does. Partners of depressed individuals viewed themselves as more controlling than their mate did. Men's depression was associated with disagreement between partners regarding men's self‐focused behavior. Results underscore the importance of considering interpersonal perception when conceptualizing relationship distress and depression within intimate relationships.


Family Process, Vol. 45, No. 2 (June 2017): 459-475. DOI.

Lynne M. Knobloch-Fedders was affiliated with Northwestern University at the time of publication.