Research explores postnuptial depression
By Jen Sobolewski
BOWLING GREEN, O.—Planning a wedding can be exciting, joyful and especially stressful. But what happens when the wedding is over and the marriage begins? Dr. Laura Stafford, director of the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University, conducted a study that takes a closer look at the experience of postnuptial depression.
“Blue Brides: Exploring Postnuptial Depressive Symptoms” was featured in the March issue of the Journal of Family Issues.
Stafford and Dr. Allison Scott, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Kentucky, conducted in-depth interviews with 28 newly married women to explore this experience. Nearly half of the participants indicated that they felt let down or depressed following their wedding, and some participants reported clinical levels of depression.
The researchers found several stark contrasts between the “bluest” and the happiest brides. “Blue” brides described feeling uncertain in their marriages, focused on self during wedding planning, and characterized their wedding as an ending followed by unmet expectations. Happier brides expressed confidence in their relationship, demonstrated a focus on their fiancé during wedding planning, and framed their wedding in terms of new beginnings and unexpected positive emotions.
“Marital and family therapists are beginning to recognize both the possibility of post-wedding depression and the potential for such depression to filter into marital dissatisfaction and disillusionment, which poses a threat to early marital stability,” Stafford and Scott stated. “For example, some research has found that feeling depressed about marriage in the first year is highly predictive of divorce by the third year.”
When asked about the emotions that they experienced in the months following their wedding, the “blue” brides described experiencing a definite sense of sadness. These brides explained how their feelings of depression were tied to expectations. A clear theme among the “blue” brides was a sense of uncertainty about the marital relationship. By contrast, none of the happier brides indicated that they questioned their decision to marry or that they felt uncertain about their relationship.
“Despite the probable pressure for the ‘perfect’ wedding, none of the ‘blue’ brides in our sample linked their feelings of depression or unmet expectations to the wedding itself,” the researchers wrote in the study. “In fact, many women explicitly commented on the success of the wedding day. For even the blue brides, the wedding appears to have lived up to their expectations. Rather, it was after the wedding that the ‘blue’ brides experienced a letdown and found little direction for moving forward in their relationships or their lives.”
Perhaps the most striking finding of this study is the marked contrast between the “blue” brides and the happy brides in describing their post-wedding expectations and experiences. “This suggests that further exploring these and other potential differences would yield findings that might prove particularly useful in helping women to plan for their weddings and their marriages in ways that mitigate the potential for postnuptial depression.
“Our findings point to the need for greater premarital counseling in order to help individuals cultivate realistic expectations for marriage and their own thoughts and emotions beyond the wedding day.”
The researchers are in the process of studying a larger sample size of women to see if they solicit similar results.