Background: Previous research has shown that interpersonal processes play a significant role in the development and maintenance of affective disorders. In this study, this claim was further investigated by comparing the perception of the dyadic relationship and judgment of other's emotions in affective disorder patients.
Method: The sample included 39 couples (n=39 couples) with one of the partners suffering from an affective disorder and currently either in an acute or remitted depressive state. All participants completed four instruments, measuring the perceived quality of the dyadic relationship and the perception of other's emotions as reflected by judgments of facial expressions line drawings.
Results: While the level of marital satisfaction was found to be lower in the acute than in the remitted group both for ill partners and their spouses, spouses in both the acute and remitted group tended to be more critical of their ill partners. Patients who were depressed judged facial expressions significantly less positively than did remitted patients. Judgments of negative emotions were highly correlated between partners in the acute group, but uncorrelated in the remitted group. Acutely depressed patients were less sensitive to invitation than remitted patients, while their spouses displayed the opposite pattern.
Conclusion: The present results shed further light on the interpersonal dynamics between depressed patients and their spouses by underscoring differences between couples with a remitted vs. acutely depressed partner in their perception of the dyadic unit and their judgments of facial emotions.
Limitations: Longitudinal research is needed, in which the same patients are tested during periods of remission and acute episodes, as well as research investigating the role of patient gender in the perception of facial expressions of emotions.