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Tell Me Again What You Think of Me: Depression and Reassurance-Seeking in Couples

Man comforting his sad mourning friendApproximately 18.1 million Americans adults suffer from depression each year.[1] They experience symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, persistent feelings of sadness, disinterest in once-pleasurable activities, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, and even thoughts of death.  In addition to these symptoms, depression also negatively affects communication in close interpersonal relationships, such as with friends, partners, and family members.

For example, depressed individuals are more likely to engage in reassurance-seeking behavior: asking for affirmation that he or she is lovable, worthy, and valued.[2]  Although most people ask for reassurance occasionally, individuals with depression tend to seek reassurance persistently and repeatedly, even after their partners have already offered it.[3] Some experts even suggest that excessive requests for interpersonal approval may be both a cause and a consequence of depression,[4] due in part to depressed individuals’ tendency to doubt or dismiss positive feedback from others.

A group of researchers at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, led by Dr. Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, studied the links between reassuring-seeking behavior and depression among couples.  In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Illinois and Michigan State University, the researchers investigated the communication behavior of 69 couples seeking treatment for relationship problems and depression.  Results of the study, which was funded by the Randy Gerson Memorial Research Award from the American Psychological Foundation, indicated that depressive symptoms were a primary predictor of reassurance-seeking behavior in couples.[5]  The researchers’ next step is to begin testing interventions designed to help reduce excessive reassurance-seeking, and increase positive communication and validation, among couples seeking treatment for depression.

Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, PhD,  is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, with expertise in couples therapy, premarital counseling, depression and anxiety disorders, infertility and adoption. Additionally, she maintains a clinical research program, with a primary focus on the associations between couples’ interpersonal behavior, relationship distress, and individual psychopathology. 

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester.  The Institute also conducts research which is incorporated into both our Clinical Service and Education Programs. Learn more about our Depression Treatment Program. Visit our website to learn more about our services.

References:

[1] Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 617-627.

[2] Joiner, T. E., Jr., Metalsky, G. I., Katz, J., & Beach, S. R. H. (1999). Depression and excessive reassurance-seeking. Psychological Inquiry, 10, 269-278.

[3] Pettit, J. W., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2006). Chronic depression. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

[4] Haeffel, G. J., Voelz, Z. R., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2007). Vulnerability to depressive symptoms: Clarifying the role of excessive reassurance seeking and perceived social support in an interpersonal model of depression. Cognition and Emotion, 21, 681-688.

[5] Knobloch, L.K., Knobloch-Fedders, L.M., & Durbin, C.E. (2011).  Depressive symptoms and relational uncertainty as predictors of reassurance-seeking and negative feedback-seeking in conversation.  Communication Monographs, 78, 437-462.

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