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Can high conflict marriages lead to depression?

It's no secret that a stressful marriage can wear down its victims through a process of emotional attrition. Indeed, even good marriages take effort. But when the relationship is "difficult" to manage in addition to the stress of juggling responsibilities to jobs, kids, and debt, miserably-married people can feel overwhelmed and can become depressed.

While these statements are largely based on anecdotal experiences, there may be some scientific proof behind them. A 2014 study conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that spouses who are stressed out within a marriage are more likely to succumb to depression. 

Essentially, the researchers followed more than 100 married couples (as well as long term partners who lived together) for over ten years. Couples completed questionnaires at the outset of the marriage indicating their respective stress levels, when or if their spouses were a source of tension, and whether they were supported by their significant other. Their propensity for symptoms of depression was also documented.

Years later, the same couples were again tested for marital stress and depression through an "emotional response test" that involved flashing images on a screen to measure how they responded to positive stimuli. The couples who had lived in stressful marriages were more likely to be depressed.

The research is important not only for addressing warning signs, but it can be helpful in determining what is in a child's best interests when it appears that one parent has been the victim of perceived or actual emotional abuse throughout the marriage. Additionally, if a parent suffers from mental illness because of ongoing and untreated depression, this can also be taken into consideration when setting support awards. 

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