Depressive Symptoms, Criticism, and Counter-Criticism in Marital Interactions

Joseph M. Trombello, Kristina M. Post, David A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Although people with depressive symptoms face criticism, hostility, and rejection in their close relationships, we do not know how they respond. Following interpersonal theories of depression, it might be expected that depressive symptoms would be associated with a tendency to receive and also to express criticism toward one's spouse, and that at least some of this criticism would be a contingent response to criticism received (i.e., “counter-criticism”). However, other research has determined that depressive symptoms/behaviors suppress partner criticism, suggesting that depressed people might respond to partner criticism similarly, by subsequently expressing less criticism. In a sample of 112 married couples, partial correlations, regressions, and Actor-Partner Interdependence Modeling indicated that lower criticism and counter-criticism expression during a laboratory marital interaction task was associated with higher depressive symptoms, especially when such individuals were clinically depressed. Furthermore, during a separate and private Five-Minute Speech Sample, lower criticism by partners was associated with higher depressive symptoms, especially when those who chose the interaction topic were also clinically depressed. All analyses controlled for relationship adjustment. These results suggest that spouses with higher depressive symptoms and clinical depression diagnoses may be suppressing otherwise ordinary criticism expression toward their nondepressed partners; furthermore, nondepressed partners of depressed people are especially likely to display less criticism toward their spouse in a private task.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-178
Number of pages14
JournalFamily Process
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Communication
  • Couples
  • Criticism
  • Depression
  • Expressed Emotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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