ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

Depression is associated with a host of interpersonal difficulties, particularly within intimate relationships. Although a significant body of literature has supported the presence of a highly consolidated negative self-representation or self-schema, no studies have examined whether depression is also associated with a highly organized negative “partner-schema”, and whether this represents a risk factor for relationship distress. Given the high degree of similarity between cognitive representations of self and close others, it was predicted that depression would be associated with a partner-schema structure mirroring that of the self-schema: an organized cognitive structure characterized by tightly interconnected negative information, and loosely dispersed positive information. In a sample of 291 undergraduate students, results supported this hypothesis. The findings also revealed that partner-schema structure was associated with relationship quality and attributions about a partner's behaviors over and above self-schema structure. These findings have important implications for understanding the link between cognitive risk factors, relational dysfunction, and depressive symptoms.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 37, No. 5, 2018, pp. 356-380
© 2018 Guilford Publications, Inc.
The University of Western Ontario
Depression is associated with a host of interpersonal difculties, particularly
within intimate relationships. Although a signicant body of literature has sup-
ported the presence of a highly consolidated negative self-representation or self-
schema, no studies have examined whether depression is also associated with a
highly organized negative “partner-schema”, and whether this represents a risk
factor for relationship distress. Given the high degree of similarity between cog-
nitive representations of self and close others, it was predicted that depression
would be associated with a partner-schema structure mirroring that of the self-
schema: an organized cognitive structure characterized by tightly interconnected
negative information, and loosely dispersed positive information. In a sample of
291 undergraduate students, results supported this hypothesis. The ndings also
revealed that partner-schema structure was associated with relationship quality
and attributions about a partner’s behaviors over and above self-schema structure.
These ndings have important implications for understanding the link between
cognitive risk factors, relational dysfunction, and depressive symptoms.
Keywords: depression; interpersonal difculties; cognitive schemas; relationship
quality; attributions
Depression is associated with a range of interpersonal difficul-
ties (see Hames, Hagan, & Joiner, 2013, for review). Although
This research was supported in part by an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). All authors declare that they have no conflict of
Address correpsondence to David J. A. Dozois, Department of Psychology, The
University of Western Ontario, Westminster Hall, 361 Windermere Road, London,
Ontario, Canada N6A 3K7; E-mail:
these difficulties have been examined across a variety of inter-
personal contexts, romantic relationships are arguably most crit-
ically affected by such processes. Indeed, an association between
depression and romantic relationship distress has long been
documented in the literature (Beach & O’Leary, 1993; Du Ro-
cher, Papp, & Cummings, 2011; Najman et al., 2014; Paykel et al.,
1969; Whisman & Bruce, 1999; Sheets & Craighead, 2014). Not
only is relationship distress quite common in depression (At-
kins, Dimidjian, Bedics, & Christensen, 2009), research suggests
it may have deleterious effects on treatment response (Addis &
Jacobson, 1996; Bromberger, Wisner, & Hanusa, 1994) and may
also increase risk for depressive relapse (Whisman, 2001). Given
the effects of relationship distress on the course of depression,
it is critical to identify potential risk factors that may contribute
to diminished relationship quality. As a result, researchers have
called for the application of cognitive-behavioral theories of de-
pression to understand potential contributors to interpersonal
dysfunction in the disorder (Dobson, Quigley, & Dozois, 2014).
Cognitive theories of depression posit that individuals with
the disorder have a tendency to view themselves, their personal
world, and their future in a pervasively negative manner (Beck,
1967; Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979). Beck referred to this pat-
tern of beliefs as the cognitive triad, and stated that these nega-
tive beliefs contribute to the onset and maintenance of depressed
mood. An individual’s romantic partner may be encompassed
in this cognitive triad and also be the recipient of pervasively
negative perceptions. Indeed, research suggests that depression
is associated with the tendency to make negative attributions
about romantic partners’ behaviors, referred to in the literature
as causal and responsibility attributions (Fincham & Bradbury,
1992). Causal attributions refer to the tendency to place the cause
of negative behaviors within the partner, view the cause as stable
and unchanging, and perceive it to have a global influence on
many aspects of the relationship. Responsibility attributions re-
fer to the tendency to believe that a partner deliberately intended
to engage in the negative behavior, was motivated to do so, and
deserved to be blamed for the behavior. Depressive symptoms
have been linked to both causal and responsibility about a part-
ner’s negative behavior (Heene, Buysse, & Van Oost, 2005, 2007).
According to Beck’s model, the negative thought patterns as-
sociated with depression stem from underlying cognitive struc-
tures, known as schemas (Beck et al., 1979). Schemas are cog-
nitive templates that individuals develop based on past experi-
ences, which are subsequently activated and used to guide the
processing of one’s current experience. Thus, a schema repre-
sents a highly individualized lens through which an individual
interprets and experiences his or her surroundings (Dozois &
Beck, 2008). In the literature, schemas are conceptualized as con-
sisting of both content and structure. Schema structure, or cog-
nitive organization, refers to the degree of interconnectedness
or consolidation of content within the schema (Dozois & Rnic,
2015). The degree to which negative information forms a highly
consolidated associative network of interconnected nodes may
be particularly important in understanding the self-schema in
depression (Dozois, 2002, 2007; Dozois & Dobson, 2001a, 2001b).
Research suggests that, compared to healthy controls, the cogni-
tive organization of individuals with depression is characterized
by more tightly interconnected negative and loosely intercon-
nected positive information about the self (e.g., Dozois, Eichst-
edt, Collins, Phoenix, & Harris, 2012).
The degree of consolidation in schema structure is thought
to be a relatively stable vulnerability factor in depression. That
is, while negatively biased information processing and surface
level cognitions observed in individuals with depression tend
to ameliorate as depressive symptoms remit, cognitive organiza-
tion remains fairly stable despite symptom improvement (e.g.,
Dozois, 2007). Interestingly, although the cognitive structure of
negative self-referent information has been examined across dif-
ferent content domains, the organization of negative interper-
sonally-related information about the self appears to be a par-
ticularly robust and stable predictor of depressive symptoms
(Dozois, 2007; Dozois & Dobson, 2001a). That is, the organiza-
tion of interpersonal information (e.g., being rejected, alone, un-
lovable) is more consistently and stably linked with depression
than is non-interpersonal, achievement-oriented information
(e.g., being a failure, incompetent). Given the importance of in-
terpersonal schema content and the effects of underlying schema
structures on an individual’s thoughts and emotions, it is likely
that relational schemas hold a powerful influence over affect and
cognition within the context of intimate relationships and this
disorder. To date, research has not yet examined whether depres-
sion is also associated with highly organized negative schema
structures for one’s romantic partner.
Outside of the context of depression, cognitive theories have
been used to conceptualize the role of schemas in romantic rela-
tionships. For instance, Beck (1988) applied his cognitive model
to relationship difficulties and asserted that negative schemas
may contribute to certain types of distress-maintaining assump-
tions about oneself and one’s partner in romantic relationships.
Similar to Beck’s model, Baldwin (1992, 1995) defined relational
schemas as cognitive representations that individuals develop
based on regularities in relational patterns. These relational sche-
mas are thought to allow individuals to predict which self-gen-
erated behaviors will elicit which types of responses from a part-
ner (e.g., If I get angry, my partner will reject me; Baldwin, 1995).
Thus, Baldwin’s (1992, 1995) relational schemas include both a
self-schema and an other-schema that are closely intertwined,
yet distinct from one another. Building on Baldwin’s theory of
relational schemas, Whisman and Delinsky (2002) focused on
the component of partner-schema, and defined partner-schemas
as “conceptualizations of one’s romantic partner, derived from
past experience, which organize and guide the processing of
partner-related information” (p. 51; Chatav & Whisman, 2009).
No studies to date have examined the role of partner-schema
structure in relationship difficulties within the context of depres-
sion; however, recent research with romantic dating couples has
demonstrated that the organization of partner-schema structures
is associated with reduced relationship satisfaction (Chatav &
Whisman, 2009; Whisman & Delinsky, 2002), poor relationship
quality (Reifman & Crohan, 1993; Showers & Kevlyn, 1999), and
more negative thoughts about a partner’s behaviors (Chatav
& Whisman, 2009). Similar associations have been replicated
in married dyads with objective behavioral measures of rela-
tionship quality (Campbell, Butzer, & Wong, 2008). Moreover,
partner-schema structures have been linked longitudinally to
relationship longevity and dissolution (Murray & Holmes, 1999;
Showers & Ziegler-Hill, 2004). As such, the extant literature sug-
gests a clear link between partner-schemas and relationship
quality; however, despite a strong theoretical impetus (Baldwin,
1992, 1995; Beck, 1967, 1988) and growing body of research sup-
porting the role of schemas in interpersonal functioning, the link
between partner-schema structures, depression, and relation-
ship distress remains unexamined.
Most of the aforementioned studies have focused primarily on
the role of partner-schemas without taking into consideration
the significant effects of self-schemas on affect and cognition. It
may be pertinent to examine whether partner-schema structures
are robust enough to predict relationship outcomes above and
beyond the self-schema, as research suggests that an individ-
ual’s cognitive representations of self and close others become
merged with one another. For instance, the self and other are
thought to become integrated into one cognitive category (Aron,
Aron, & Smollan, 1992; Aron, Aron, Tudor, & Nelson, 1991; Aron
et al., 2004), such that “much of our cognition about the other in
a close relationship is cognition in which the other is treated as
self or confused with self” (Aron et al., 1991, p. 242). Given the
high degree of cognitive overlap between self and close others, it
is possible that a partner-schema may not be uniquely predictive
of relationship variables above and beyond the powerful effects
of the self-schema. If, however, partner schema structure main-
tains its association with relationship variables while controlling
for the effects of the self-schema, this would suggest that partner
schema structures might play a particularly important role in in-
terpersonal difficulties in depression.
While most research has focused on the role of the self-schema
in depression, there is ample evidence to suggest that schemas
held about significant others may be particularly germane to un-
derstanding interpersonal difficulties in the disorder. Cognitive-
behavioral theories of depression suggest that negatively biased
representations of the self and others may contribute to inter-
personal difficulties and depressive symptoms (see Dobson et
al., 2014). Indeed, Evraire and Dozois (2014) found that schema
content, or core beliefs, about self and others predicted interper-
sonal dysfunction in individuals with depression. Interpersonal
variables are the most powerful predictors of depression (e.g.,
Sheets & Craighead, 2014), yet examinations of the manner by
which people think about and process interpersonal relation-
ship stimuli are relatively under-investigated in the context of
this disorder (Gadassi & Rafaeli, 2015). This dearth of research
is surprising given the association between depression and re-
lationship distress. As such, the purpose of the present study
was to begin to bridge this gap in the literature by examining
whether depression is associated with a particular partner-sche-
ma structure, and whether partner-schema structure is uniquely
associated with relationship dysfunction above and beyond the
The first aim of this study was to examine whether depression
was associated with an organized schema structure for a cur-
rent romantic partner. Given the role of the cognitive triad in de-
pression (Beck et al., 1979), the tendency to view one’s personal
world in a pervasively negative manner could conceivably be
extended to an individual’s view of his or her romantic partner.
Moreover, given the degree of overlap between cognitive repre-
sentations of the self and close others (e.g., Aron et al., 1992), it is
reasonable to expect that one’s partner-schema would be similar
in organization to one’s self-schema. As such, depression was
hypothesized to be associated with a partner-schema structure
mirroring that of the self-schema (i.e., a partner-schema struc-
ture consisting of highly interconnected negative and more dif-
fuse positive content).
Another objective of this study was to examine whether part-
ner-schema structure was associated with facets of relationship
quality (such as relationship adjustment, satisfaction, and com-
mitment) and relationship attributions (causal and responsibility
attributions) about a partner (Campbell, Butzer, & Wong, 2008;
Chatav & Whisman, 2009; Reifman & Crohan, 1993; Showers &
Kevlyn, 1999; Whisman & Delinsky, 2002). Moreover, given the
cognitive similarity between representations of self and close
others, this study examined whether partner-schema structures
were predictive of relationship variables above and beyond the
self-schema. In addition, this study expanded on the existing lit-
erature by using the Psychological Distance Scaling Task (PDST;
Dozois & Dobson, 2001a, 200b) as a novel measure of partner-
schema structure. A number of the previous studies examining
the link between partner-schemas and relationship functioning
have relied primarily on measures designed to tap into a sche-
ma’s content and its effects on information processing rather
than the actual structure of the schemas per se. Although schema
content is important, the way in which a schema’s content is or-
ganized is particularly important in the context of depression
(Dozois, 2002, 2007; Dozois & Dobson, 2001a, 2001b). Spreading
activation models of schema-related cognition posit that activa-
tion spreads more readily across schema content or nodes that
are more closely interconnected (e.g., Bower, 1981). Therefore,
when a negative relationship event activates an underlying part-
ner-schema, more closely interconnected negative nodes should
facilitate more readily available negative cognitions about the
partner. Thus, a more tightly interconnected negative partner-
schema was predicted to be associated with reduced self-report-
ed relationship quality, and the tendency to make more distress
maintaining attributions about a partner’s negative behavior. In
summary, the current study expands upon the extant literature
by seeking to replicate previous findings using the PDST, and
examining whether the associations between partner-schema
structure and relationship variables hold above and beyond the
effects of self-schema.
The sample was comprised of 296 undergraduate students re-
cruited from the University of Western Ontario’s psychology
research participant pool. Participants were required to be cur-
rently in a romantic relationship of at least 3 months duration at
the time of participation. Four participants were excluded be-
cause they reported not currently being in a romantic relation-
ship, and one participant was excluded because she required an
electronic language translator to complete the study, leaving a
sample size of 291 participants for analyses. The average age of
participants was 18.76 (SD = 2.61), and the average relationship
length was 17.86 months (SD = 8.88). The majority of participants
reported being in a committed relationship (87.8%); however,
some reported their relationship status as casual (8.9%) or open
(3.4%). The majority of relationships were heterosexual (90.7%).
The ethnic makeup of the sample was predominantly Cauca-
sian (60.5%). Of the sample, 72.9% were female; 18.2% reported
receiving therapy and 9% reported receiving medication for a
mental disorder. Participants received course credit in exchange
for their participation in the study.
Beck Depression Inventory—II (BDI-II). The BDI-II (Beck, Steer, &
Brown, 1996) is a widely used measure of depressive symptom
severity and demonstrates good test-retest reliability, excellent
internal reliability, and excellent content, construct, concurrent,
and discriminant validity (see Dozois & Covin, 2004, for a re-
view). This measure consists of 21 self-report items, with each
item rated on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 (symptom not pres-
ent at all) to 3 (symptom is severe) based on their mood over the
last 2 weeks. A total score is calculated by summing across all
items, where higher scores reflect greater depressive symptom
severity. In the current sample, the Cronbach’s alpha for this in-
strument was .92.
Psychological Distance Scaling Task (PDST). The PDST (Dozois,
2002, 2007; Dozois & Dobson, 2001a, 2001b) was used to assess
the structure of self- and partner-schemas. Participants com-
pleted two versions of the task; the original version was used to
assess organization of self-schema, and an adapted version was
created to assess organization of partner-schema. In the original
version of this task, participants are presented with a 21.5 cm by
23 cm rectangular grid on a computer monitor. In the middle of
this grid is a horizontal line, anchored with the statements Not
at all like me on the left side of the grid and Very much like me on
the right. A vertical line is also shown in the middle of the grid
with the anchors Very positive at the top of the grid and Very nega-
tive at the bottom. As such, the x-axis represents an adjective’s
degree of self-reference, and the y-axis reflects the adjective’s va-
lence. Adjectives are presented one at a time in the center of the
grid, and respondents are instructed to move the mouse to the
position on the grid that best characterizes the degree of self-
relevance and degree of valence of the word. After each adjec-
tive placement, the participant is presented with a new grid and
adjective until all adjectives have been rated. The x- and y-axis
coordinates for each adjective placement are recorded by the
computer and used for scoring. In the adapted partner-version
of this task, participants completed the same procedure as out-
lined above, but positioned adjectives in the grid based on the
degree of partner-relevance with the horizontal anchors of Not at
all like my partner and Very much like my partner. The same list of
adjectives was presented for both the self and partner versions of
the task; words were presented to participants in random order.
Participants completed 4 practice trials and 120 experimental tri-
als (60 trials for partner ratings, and 60 trials for self ratings).
The stimuli for the PDST were comprised of 60 adjectives (30
positive and 30 negative; see Dozois & Dobson, 2001b). Positive
and negative word lists were selected from a list of previous-
ly used stimuli for this task and were matched on the average
frequency of word use in the English language, word length,
emotional intensity, and imaginability (Dozois, 2007; Dozois &
Frewen, 2006). In order to examine the degree of schema inter-
connectedness of self- or partner-relevant information, the x/y
coordinate point for each adjective was used to calculate the av-
erage interstimulus distances between adjectives. The average
interstimulus distances for the self-referent positive and nega-
tive adjectives for each participant were then calculated using
an idiographic formula (see Dozois & Dobson, 2001b; Seeds &
Dozois, 2010). Four interstimulus distance scores (ISDs) were
calculated for each participant: self positive, self negative, part-
ner positive, and partner negative. Greater distance among ad-
jectives is believed to indicate less interconnectedness or consoli-
dation of information, whereas less distance is thought to reflect
greater interconnectedness or consolidation (Dozois & Frewen,
2006). The psychometric properties of the PDST have been sup-
ported in previous studies in depressive and non-depressive
samples (Crits-Christoph, Gallop, Diehl, Yin, & Gibbons, 2017;
Dozois, 2002, 2007; Dozois & Dobson, 2001b).
Revised-Dyadic Adjustment Scale (R-DAS). The RDAS (Busby,
Christensen, Crane, & Larson, 1976) measures global relation-
ship adjustment and can be used to distinguish between clini-
cally distressed couples and non-distressed couples (Anderson
et al., 2014). This instrument consists of 14 self-report items, each
rated on 6-point Likert-type rating scales (with the exception of
one item, which uses a 5-point scale). For example, items may
ask participants to rate how often particular events (e.g., a dis-
agreement or a calm discussion) occur in their relationship, us-
ing a scale ranging from All the time or Every day to Never. Lower
scores on this measure reflect higher couple distress. Research
supports the psychometric properties of this measure (e.g., Alves
et al., 2015; Crane, Middleton, & Bean, 2000). Cronbach’s alpha
in this sample was .77.
Investment Model Scale: Satisfaction & Commitment Facets. The
Investment Model Scale (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998) is a
widely used instrument that includes subscales measuring re-
lationship satisfaction and commitment. Participants are asked
to indicate their level of agreement with each statement on an
8-point scale with endpoints labeled 1 (don’t agree at all) and 8
(completely agree). The satisfaction facet includes items such as
“My partner fulfills my needs for intimacy,” and “My relation-
ship is close to ideal,” whereas items from the commitment facet
include “I am committed to maintaining my relationship with
my partner” and “I want our relationship to last forever.” The
original satisfaction scale (consisting of 10 items) and the 15-item
version of the commitment scale (Rusbult, Kumashiro, Kubacka,
& Finkel, 2009) were used in this study. Research supports the
reliability, and convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity
of this measure (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998). Internal con-
sistency in the current sample was .95 for the commitment scale,
and .91 for the satisfaction scale.
Relationship Attribution Measure (RAM). The RAM (Fincham &
Bradbury, 1992) was used to examine the degree to which par-
ticipants endorse a number of distress-maintaining attributions
about their partners’ undesirable behaviors. Participants are pre-
sented with four hypothetical negative partner behaviors (e.g.,
Your partner criticizes something you say). For each of the four
behaviors, participants are instructed to rate their agreement
with 6 statements indicating the degree to which they endorse
causal and responsibility attributions for a partner’s negative be-
haviors. The causal attributions subscale measures the belief that
the causal locus of the behavior is within the partner, and that
this cause is stable and global. The responsibility attributions
subscale reflects the degree to which participants believe their
partner engaged in the behavior intentionally, and whether the
partner deserves to be blamed for the behavior. Research sup-
ports the RAM’s test-retest reliability, internal consistency, and
validity (Fincham & Bradbury, 1992). Cronbach’s alpha in cur-
rent sample was .78 for the causal attributions scale, and .86 for
the responsibility attributions scale.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants
included in the study. Participants were run in groups of up to
six individuals and completed all measures on individual com-
puter workstations. After providing some demographic infor-
mation, participants completed the BDI-II, PDST (self and part-
ner versions), R-DAS, IMS, and RAM (the order of measures was
randomized). Upon completion of the study, participants were
debriefed, thanked for their participation, and provided with
credit for their introductory psychology class. Participants were
TABLE 1. Descriptive Statistics for Variables of Interest
Variable n M (SD) Min Max
BDI-II 291 12.31 (9.68) 0.00 51.00
R-DAS 291 49.64 (7.50) 25.00 65.00
IMS-Com 290 5.54 (1.63) 0.53 8.00
IMS-Sat 291 50.40 (9.45) 13.33 60.00
Interstimulus Distances
Self ISD (+) 291 .08 (.22) −.42 1.30
Self ISD (−) 279 .75 (.42) −.06 2.36
Partner ISD (+) 291 .03 (.20) −.68 .89
Partner ISD (−) 273 .94 (.50) −.51 2.44
Causal Attributions 290 3.49 (.74) 1.00 5.58
Responsibility Attributions 290 2.80 (.87) 1.00 6.00
Note. BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory—II; R-DAS = Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale; IMS =
Investment Model Scale; ISD = Interstimulus Distance, as measured by the PDST; RAM = Relationship
Attribution Measure.
given a list of psychological resources and were encouraged to
access them if needed.
Descriptive statistics for the main study variables are found in
Table 1, and bivariate correlations between all study variables of
interest are presented in Table 2. Notably, positive and negative
self ISDs were positively and significantly correlated with posi-
tive and negative partner ISDs, respectively. Moreover, depres-
sive symptoms were positively and significantly correlated with
both self- and partner-schema ISDs in the expected directions.
To examine whether partner-schema structures were associ-
ated with relationship quality variables and attributions about
a partner, five separate hierarchical regression analyses were
conducted for each of the relationship criterion variables: rela-
tionship adjustment, satisfaction, and commitment; as well as
responsibility and blame attributions. As BDI-II scores corre-
lated significantly with the criterion variables (except commit-
ment), this variable was entered as a covariate in the first step of
each analysis. To facilitate ease of interpretation and to maintain
parsimony, both positive and negative domains of self-schema
structures were entered into the same step of the regression.
Similarly, positive and negative domains of partner-schema
TABLE 2. Correlations Among the Variables of Interest
1. BDI-II −.37** −.10 −.39** −.31** .42** −.18** .29** .20** .16**
2. R-DAS .37** .58** .21** −.27** .38** −.34** .33** −.35**
3. IMS-Comm .51** −.02 −.06 .09 −.17** −.05 −.08
4. IMS-Sat .17** −.24** .30** −.43** −.35** −.35**
5. Self ISD (−) −.20** .46** −.22** −.10 −.15*
6. Self ISD (+) −.18** .44** .09 .06
7. Part ISD (−) −.27** −.31** −.34**
8. Part ISD (+) .22** .19**
9. RAM-Causal .56**
10. RAM-Responsibility
Note. BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory — II; R-DAS = Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale; IMS =
Investment Model Scale; ISD = Interstimulus Distance, as measured by the PDST; RAM = Relationship
Attribution Measure. *p < .05; **p < .01
structures were entered simultaneously. The regression analyses
for each relationship quality variable, and attribution type, re-
gressed onto schema structures are summarized in Tables 3, and
4, respectively.
The results indicated that partner-schema organization sig-
nificantly added to the prediction of dyadic adjustment, R2
change = .12, F(5, 260) = 19.04, p < .001, satisfaction, R2 change
TABLE 3. Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting
Relationship Quality from Schema Organization
Step and Variable Entered F R AdjR2ΔF B SE of Bβt
Dyadic Adjustment
Step 1: 36.91*** .35 .12 36.91***
BDI-II −.27 0.04 −.35 -6.08***
Step 2: 14.92*** .38 .14 3.56*
Self ISD (−) 1.72 1.13 0.09 1.54
Self ISD (+) −4.36 2.13 −.13 −2.05*
Step 3: 19.04*** .52 .25 21.68***
Partner ISD (−) 5.17 0.92 0.34 5.60***
Partner ISD (+) −6.27 2.35 −.16 −2.67***
Relationship Satisfaction
Step 1: 45.96*** .39 .15 45.96***
BDI-II −.38 0.06 −.39 −6.78***
Step 2: 16.06*** .39 .15 1.09*
Self ISD (−) .41 1.45 0.02 .28
Self ISD (+) −3.89 2.73 −.09 −1.42
Step 3: 23.28*** .56 .30 28.97***
Partner ISD (−) 4.72 1.16 0.24 4.08***
Partner ISD (+) −17.13 2.95 −.34 −5.81***
Relationship Commitment
Step 1: 3.08* .15 .02 3.08*
BDI-II −.02 0.01 −.11 −1.83
Rel Months .01 0.01 .11 1.78
Step 2: 1.92 .17 .01 .75
Self ISD (−) −.27 .27 −.07 −1.02
Self ISD (+) −.39 .50 −.05 −.77
Step 3: 4.03** .29 .06 8.05***
Partner ISD (−) .50 .23 .15 2.14*
Partner ISD (+) −1.78 .58 −.21 −3.07***
Note. BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory–II; ISD = Interstimulus Distance, as measured by the PDST.
All values are rounded to two decimal digits. *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.
= .15, F(5, 260) = 23.28, p < .001, and commitment, R2 change =
.06, F(6, 258) = 4.03, p = .001, after controlling for the effects of
depression and self-schema structure. Specifically, both nega-
tive and positive ISDs were associated with these relationship
variables, suggesting that a partner-schema structure character-
ized by both highly organized negative information and loosely
dispersed positive information is associated with lower levels
of dyadic adjustment, satisfaction, and commitment. Findings
were similar for relationship attributions, wherein the models
indicated that partner-schema organization significantly added
to the prediction of both causal, R2 change = .07, F(5, 259) = 6.65,
p < .001, and responsibility, R2 change = .11, F(5, 259) = 8.34, p
< .001, attributions above and beyond the effects of depression
and self-schema structure. Specifically, only the organization of
negative partner information (not the organization of positive
TABLE 4. Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting
Attributions from Schema Organization
Step and Variable Entered F R AdjR2ΔF B SE of Bβt
Causal Attributions
Step 1: 10.75*** .20 .04 10.75**
BDI-II .01 .00 .20 3.28**
Step 2: 3.99*** .21 .03 .64
Self ISD (−) −.13 .12 −.07 −1.10
Self ISD (+) −.07 .22 −.02 −.34
Step 3: 6.65*** .34 .10 10.20***
Partner ISD (−) −.41 .10 −.28 −4.21***
Partner ISD (+) .28 .25 .07 1.10
Responsibility Attributions
Step 1: 5.26* .14 .02 5.26**
BDI-II .01 .01 .14 2.29*
Step 2: 2.30 .16 .02 .82
Self ISD (−) −.17 .14 −.08 −1.24
Self ISD (+) −.11 .26 −.03 −.41
Step 3: 8.34*** .37 .12 16.97***
Partner ISD (−) −.63 .12 −.36 −5.40***
Partner ISD (+) .44 .30 .09 1.48
Note. BDI-II = Beck Depression Inventory–II; ISD = Interstimulus Distance, as measured by the PDST.
All values are rounded to two decimal digits. *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.
partner information) was independently associated with both
causal and responsibility attributions, suggesting that their asso-
ciations with partner schema organization was driven by nega-
tive partner-schema structure.
The current study examined whether depressive symptoms were
associated with an organized partner-schema structure, and
whether that schema structure was associated with relationship
quality and attributions about a partner’s negative behaviors.
The first hypothesized finding was that depressive symptoms
would be associated with a highly organized partner-schema
structure similar to the depressive self-schema structure repeat-
edly observed in the literature. In particular, depression has
been linked to a self-schema structure characterized by tightly
interconnected negative information about the self, and loosely
interconnected positive self-referent information (Dozois & Dob-
son, 2001a, 2001b; Dozois et al., 2012; Dozois & Frewen, 2006;
Lumley, Dozois, Hennig, & Marsh, 2012; Quilty, Dozois, Lobo,
Ravindran, & Bagby, 2014). As predicted, the current findings
suggest that a similar structure emerged for the partner-schema.
In particular, depressive symptoms were significantly associated
with a partner-schema structure characterized by highly inter-
connected negative information about a partner, and loosely dis-
persed positive partner information.
The emergence of an association between depressive symp-
toms and partner-schema structure is a novel finding that has not
yet been reported elsewhere in the literature, but is in line with
predictions made based on two major theoretical approaches.
First, drawing on Beck and colleagues’ (1979) cognitive theory of
depression, individuals with the disorder have negative views
of the self, the world, and the future. As such, it was expected
that this tendency to view one’s personal world in a pervasively
negative manner would extend to a depressed individual’s view
of his or her romantic partner. Second, a long history of theory
and research in psychology has suggested that representations of
self are delicately intertwined with, and mutually influenced by,
representations of close others (e.g., Aron et al., 1991; Aron et al.,
1992; Baldwin, 1992, 1995; Bowlby, 1973, 1980). Indeed, a shared
core feature that cuts across classic and contemporary models of
romantic relationships is that the integration of self and romantic
partner represents a defining feature of interpersonal closeness
(see Finkel, Simpson, & Eastwick, 2017, for review). As such, the
findings of this study are consistent with the expected similarity
between self- and partner-schema structures, and provide pre-
liminary support for the assertion that depressive self-schema
structure is mirrored for romantic partners.
Research supports the notion of the cognitive integration of
self and other, and suggests that not only does structural simi-
larity (e.g., Brown, Young, & McConnell, 2009) and processing
efficiency (e.g., Kuiper & Rogers, 1979) increase with closeness,
but representations of self and other actually overlap such that
individuals may be unsure of where they end and their partner
begins (Mashek, Aron, & Boncim, 2003; Slotter & Gardner, 2009).
Thus, the question of whether self and romantic partner can ac-
tually be disentangled is an intriguing one and suggests that
separating self and partner representations conceptually and
empirically may be a difficult task. In the current study, the zero
order correlations demonstrated that self-schema organization
was significantly but only moderately correlated with partner-
schema organization. This finding is especially meaningful, as it
suggests that while self- and partner-schemas are related, they
are not entirely overlapping and represent distinct constructs.
Thus, while multiple theorists have emphasized the importance
of the interconnectedness of self and other schemas (e.g., Aron et
al., 1992, 1991; Baldwin, 1992, 1995), these findings support the
idea that they remain as distinct schematic components and that
there are likely some aspects of self and partner that remain cog-
nitively separate. As such, this moderate correlation lends fur-
ther credence to the idea that the subsequent analyses examining
whether partner schema is predictive of relationship variables
beyond self-schemas is a meaningful and stringent analysis.
The second hypothesis was that partner-schema structure
would be associated with relationship quality and attributions,
and that these associations would hold above and beyond the
effects of self-schema structure. Consistent with cognitive frame-
works (e.g., Beck et al., 1979; Bower, 1981) and past research ex-
amining partner-schemas (e.g., Campbell et al., 2008; Showers &
Kevlyn, 1999), the current study supported the hypothesis and
revealed that partner-schema structures were associated with
dyadic adjustment, satisfaction, and commitment; as well as
causal and responsibility attributions. Specifically, partner-sche-
mas characterized by highly organized negative information and
loosely interconnected positive information were linked with
lower levels of reported dyadic adjustment, satisfaction, and
commitment. In addition, highly organized negative partner-
schemas were associated with the tendency to make distress-
maintaining attributions about a partner’s negative behavior.
One novel contribution of the current study is the use of the
PDST to operationalize partner-schema structure. While the ma-
jority of studies examining partner-schemas have used informa-
tion processing schema measures, the PDST is unique in its abil-
ity to capture the organization of information about a romantic
partner. This may be particularly important for understanding
the role of partner schemas in depression, as research suggests
that while biases in surface level cognitions and information
processing tend to dissipate as depressive symptoms remit, un-
derlying cognitive structures (as measured by the PDST) tend
to remain stable despite the amelioration of symptoms (e.g.,
Dozois, 2007). In addition, research suggests that interpersonal
difficulties may represent stable vulnerabilities in individuals
with depression (Petty, Sachs-Ericsson, & Joiner, 2004). There-
fore, identifying the stable, underlying cognitive risk factors that
may contribute to these chronic difficulties may be particularly
important for understanding the etiology of interpersonal dys-
function and informing interventions.
An additional contribution of the current study is that it of-
fers a preliminary investigation of the relative importance of
self- versus partner-schemas structures in predicting a number
of relationship variables. Specifically, the findings suggest that
partner schemas may be particularly important in predicting
relationship quality and attributions about one’s partner, above
and beyond the effects of self-schemas. Interestingly, self-schema
structures were not linked as strongly to the relationship crite-
rion variables as could be expected. For instance, research shows
that an individual’s own negative self-views have been associat-
ed with underestimations of relationship quality and reduced re-
lationship well-being (DeHart, Pelham, & Murray, 2004; Murray,
Holmes, & Griffin, 2000), suggesting that self-schema content
may influence relationship variables. Although there is a differ-
ence between structure and content, these findings may provide
indirect support for the idea that a negative self-schema struc-
ture would also be associated with dysfunctional attributions
about a partner’s negative behavior. It is worth noting that the
relationship attribution measure used in the current study asked
participants to rate possible reasons for a partner’s negative be-
havior (e.g., being critical, inattentive) from a variety of response
options, including whether this behavior was a result of some-
thing within their partner or something within themselves. As
such, a negative underlying self-schema structure could reason-
ably be associated with scores on this measure. While this lack
of an association between self-schema structure and attributions
about a partner’s behavior is surprising, it may have important
implications given that cognitive theory has heavily emphasized
the role of the self-schema in understanding the difficulties expe-
rienced by individuals with depression.
These findings provide preliminary support for the notion that
partner-schema structures may be stronger predictors of inter-
personal difficulties in depression than the self-schema. For ex-
ample, while depression has been associated with the tenden-
cy to make distress-maintaining attributions about a partner’s
negative behaviors (e.g., Heene et al., 2005, 2007), the literature
has yet to elucidate the underlying cognitive risk factors contrib-
uting to this tendency. While traditional research informed by
cognitive models of depression would have likely emphasized
the role of self-schemas in predicting dysfunctional relationship
cognitions, the findings of the current study suggest that a more
fruitful line of investigation would be an examination of partner-
schemas. Moreover, by controlling for the effects of self-schema
structures, these results provide an especially conservative test
and thereby increase our confidence in the uniqueness of the
contribution of partner schemas to relationship variables.
Overall, the findings of the current study were in line with the
hypotheses and can be understood in the context of cognitive
models of depression. According to Beck and colleagues’ (1979)
cognitive theory of depression, individuals with depression have
negative views of the self, the world, and the future. In particular,
cognitive models posit that highly organized underlying schema
structures contribute to negatively biased information process-
ing and surface level cognitions, such as attributions about the
self and others. Moreover, the more closely linked negative sche-
ma content is, the more readily accessible negative cognitions
(and associated affective states) are (e.g., Bower, 1981). While
previous research has focused on the role of the self-schema, the
current study is the first to suggest that this tendency to view
one’s personal world in a pervasively negative manner would
extend to a depressed individual’s view of his or her romantic
partner. The current study also suggests that partner-schema
organization may have important implications for relationship
quality and cognitions about one’s current romantic partner. The
findings of this study support the idea that, particularly when it
comes to understanding cognitive vulnerabilities to interperson-
al difficulties in the disorder, the organization of partner-schema
structures may be an important piece of the puzzle that has yet
to be integrated.
While this study puts forth a novel contribution and begins to
bridge an important gap in the literature, it is important to note
that this study was conducted with a sample of university un-
dergraduate students, thereby limiting generalizability to indi-
viduals of more diverse socioeconomic status, relationship types
and lengths. Nonetheless, the presence of highly organized part-
ner-schemas in relatively new dating relationships suggests that
partner-schemas develop and begin to exert an influence on ro-
mantic relationships in their early stages. In addition, while the
current study sought to examine the link between partner sche-
mas and depression, it is important to note that a clinical sample
was not used. This may not necessarily represent a limitation;
however, as there is no evidence to refute the idea that schema
structure would be associated with depressive symptoms in a
continuous fashion (Dozois, 2002; Haaga & Solomon, 1993). Fi-
nally, given that the data were collected cross-sectionally and are
correlational, any conclusions about causality or the direction of
effects cannot be made based on the current data. But the cross-
sectional methods employed may have been well-suited given
the exploratory nature of these research questions and relatively
novel findings.
The findings of this study have the potential to generate a new
line of research examining underlying cognitive vulnerabilities
to interpersonal difficulties in depression. Indeed, researchers
have acknowledged the need for more research in this area (e.g.,
Dobson et al., 2014; Gadassi & Rafaeli, 2015). The cognitive mod-
el of depression posits that the negative thoughts, feelings, and
behaviors an individual experiences in interpersonal interactions
stem from highly organized, negative underlying schema struc-
tures. The current study facilitates a better understanding of the
cognitive vulnerabilities underlying poor relationship adjust-
ment by examining the role of partner schemas in deteriorating
relationship quality and distress-maintaining cognitions. Over-
all, the findings were in line with predictions and suggest that
partner-schema structure may be an important component when
it comes to understanding cognitive risk factors contributing to
interpersonal difficulties in depression. Given that problems in
interpersonal functioning are associated with poorer treatment
response (e.g., Quilty, Mainland, McBride, & Bagby, 2013) and
greater chance of relapse (e.g., Whisman, 2001), it is critical to
understand factors that may contribute to these difficulties in in-
dividuals with depression. Focusing on the self-schema at the
expense of understanding relational schemas may be problem-
atic when it comes to understanding depression and its associ-
ated interpersonal difficulties. Both theory and clinical practice
could benefit from a more thorough understanding of the inter-
play between cognitive and interpersonal vulnerabilities in this
disabling disorder.
Addis, M. E., & Jacobson, N. S. (1996). Reasons for depression and the process and
outcome of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapies. Journal of Consulting and
Clinical Psychology, 64, 1417–1424.
Alves, S., Janeiro, C., Narciso, I., Canavarro, M. C., Dattilio, F. M., & Pereira, M.
(2015). Attachment in patients with mental health disorders: Associations
with patient and partner’s adjustment. Couple and Family Psychology: Re-
search and Practice, 4, 252–269.
Anderson, S. R, Tambling, R. B., Huff, S. C., Heafner, J., Johnson, L. N., & Ketring,
S. A. (2014). The development of a reliable change index and cutoff for the
Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 40,
Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Smollan, D. (1992). Inclusion of other in the self scale and
the structure of interpersonal closeness. Journal of Personality and Social Psy-
chology, 63, 596–612.
Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Tudor, M., & Nelson, G. (1991). Close relationships as includ-
ing other in the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 241–253.
Aron, A., McLaughlin-Volpe, T., Mashek, D., Lewandowski, G., Wright, S. C., &
Aron, E. N. (2004). Including others in the self. European Review of Social Psy-
chology, 15, 101–132.
Atkins, D. C., Dimidjian, S., Bedics, J. D., & Christensen, A. (2009). Couple discord
and depression in couples during couple therapy and in depressed individ-
uals during depression treatment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychol-
ogy, 77, 1089–1099.
Baldwin, M. W. (1992). Relational schemas and the processing of social informa-
tion. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 461–484.
Baldwin, M. W. (1995). Relational schemas and cognition in close relationships.
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 547–552.
Beach, S.R.H., & O’Leary, K. D. (1993). Dysphoria and marital discord: Are dys-
phoric individuals at risk for marital maladjustment? Journal of Marital and
Family Therapy, 19, 355–368.
Beck, A. T. (1967). Depression: Clinical, experimental, and theoretical aspects. New York:
Harper & Row.
Beck, A. T. (1988). Love is never enough: How couples can overcome misunderstandings,
resolve conflicts, and solve relationship problems through cognitive therapy. New
York: Perennial Library.
Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depres-
sion. New York: Guilford Press.
Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1996). Beck Depression Inventory Manual
(2nd. ed.). San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory. American Psychologist, 36, 129–148.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. New
York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1980). Loss. New York: Basic Books.
Bromberger, J. T., Wisner, K. L., & Hanusa, B. H. (1994). Marital support and remis-
sion of treated depression: A prospective pilot study of mothers of infants
and toddlers. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 182, 40–44.
Brown, C. M., Young, S. G., & McConnell, A. R. (2009). Seeing close others as we see
ourselves: One’s own self-complexity is reflected in perceptions of meaning-
ful others. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 515–523.
Busby, D. M., Christensen, C., Crane, D. R., & Larson, J. H. (1995). A revision of the
dyadic adjustment scale for use with distressed and non-distressed couples:
Construct hierarchy and multi-dimensional scales. Journal of Marital and
Family Therapy, 21, 289–308.
Campbell, L., Butzer, B., & Wong, J. (2008). The importance of the organization
of partner knowledge in understanding perceptions of relationship quality
and conflict resolution behavior in married couples. Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin, 34, 723–740.
Chatav, Y., & Whisman, M. A. (2009). Partner schemas and relationship function-
ing: A states of mind analysis. Behavior Therapy, 40, 50–56.
Crane, D. R., Middleton, K. C., & Bean, R. A. (2000). Establishing criterion scores
for the Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale and the Revised Dyadic Adjust-
ment Scale. American Journal of Family Therapy, 28, 53–60.
Crits-Christoph, P., Gallop, R., Diehl, C. K., Yin, S., & Gibbons, M.B.C. (2017).
Mechanisms of change in cognitive therapy for major depressive disorder
in the community mental health setting. Journal of Consulting and Clinical
Psychology, 85, 550–561.
DeHart, T., Pelham, B., & Murray, S. (2004). Implicit dependency regulation: Self-
esteem, relationship closeness, and implicit evaluations of close others. So-
cial Cognition, 22, 126–146.
Dobson, K. S., Quigley, L., & Dozois, D.J.A. (2014). Towards an integration of inter-
personal risk models of depression and cognitive-behavior therapy. Austra-
lian Psychologist, 49, 328–336.
Dozois, D.J.A. (2002). Cognitive organization of self-schematic content in nondys-
phoric, mildly dysphoric, and moderately-severely dysphoric individuals.
Cognitive Therapy Research, 26, 417–429.
Dozois, D.J.A. (2007). Stability of negative self-structures: A longitudinal compari-
son of depressed, remitted, and nonpsychiatric controls. Journal of Clinical
Psychology, 63, 319–338.
Dozois, D.J.A., & Beck, A. T. (2008). Cognitive schemas, beliefs and assumptions.
In K. Dobson & D. Dozois (Eds.), Risk factors in depression (pp. 119–143). San
Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.
Dozois, D.J.A., & Covin, R. (2004). The Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II), Beck
Hopelessness Scale (BHS), and Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation (BSS). In M.
Hersen (Series Ed.) and D. L. Segal & M. Hilsenroth (Vol. Eds.), Comprehen-
sive handbook of psychological assessment: Vol. 2. Personality assessment and psy-
chopathology (pp. 50–69). New York: Wiley.
Dozois, D.J.A., & Dobson, K. S. (2001a). A longitudinal investigation of informa-
tion processing and cognitive organization in clinical depression: Stability of
schematic interconnectedness. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,
69, 914–925.
Dozois, D.J.A., & Dobson, K. S. (2001b). Information processing and cognitive or-
ganization in unipolar depression: Specificity and comorbidity issues. Jour-
nal of Abnormal Psychology, 110, 236–246.
Dozois, D.J.A., Eichstedt, J. A., Collins, K. A., Phoenix, E., & Harris, K. (2012). Core
beliefs, self-perception, and cognitive organization in depressed adolescents.
International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 5, 99–112.
Dozois, D.J.A., & Frewen, P. A. (2006). Specificity of cognitive structure in depres-
sion and social phobia: A comparison of interpersonal and achievement con-
tent. Journal of Affective Disorders, 90, 101–109.
Dozois, D.J.A., & Rnic, K. (2015). Core beliefs and self-schematic structure in de-
pression. Current Opinion in Psychology, 4, 98–103.
Du Rocher, S., Papp, L. M., & Cummings, E. M. (2011). Relations between spouses’
depressive symptoms and marital conflict: A longitudinal investigation of
the role of conflict resolution styles. Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 531–540.
Evraire, L. E., & Dozois, D.J.A. (2014). If it be love indeed tell me how much: Early
core beliefs associated with excessive reassurance seeking in depression. Ca-
nadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue Canadienne Des Sciences Du Com-
portement, 46, 1–8.
Fincham, F. D., & Bradbury, T. N. (1992). Assessing attributions in marriage: The
Relationship Attribution Measure. Journal Personality and Social Psychology,
62, 457–468.
Finkel, E. J., Simpson, J. A., & Eastwick, P. W. (2017). The psychology of close rela-
tionships: Fourteen core principles. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 383–411.
Gadassi, R., & Rafaeli, E. (2015). Interpersonal perception as a mediator of the de-
pression–interpersonal difficulties link: A review. Personality and Individual
Differences, 87, 1–7.
Haaga, D. A., & Solomon, A. (1993). Impact of Kendall, Hollon, Beck, Hammen,
and Ingram (1987) on treatment of the continuity issue in “depression” re-
search. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 17, 313–324.
Hames, J. L., Hagan, C. R., & Joiner, T. E. (2013). Interpersonal processes in de-
pression. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9, 355–377. https://doi.
Heene, E.L.D., Buysse, A., & Van Oost, P. (2005). Indirect pathways between de-
pressive symptoms and marital distress: The role of conflict communication,
attributions, and attachment style. Family Process, 44, 413–440. https://doi.
Heene, E., Buysse, A., & Van Oost, P. (2007). An interpersonal perspective on de-
pression: The role of marital adjustment, conflict communication, attribu-
tions, and attachment within a clinical sample. Family Process, 46, 499–514.
Kuiper, N. A., & Rogers, T. B. (1979). Encoding of personal information: Self-other
differences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 499–514.
Lumley, M. N., Dozois, D.J.A., Hennig, K. H., & Marsh, A. (2012). Cognitive organi-
zation, perceptions of parenting and depression symptoms in early adoles-
cence. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36, 300–310.
Mashek, D. J., Aron, A., & Boncimino, M. (2003). Confusions of self with close oth-
ers. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 382–392.
Murray, S. L., & Holmes, J. G. (1999). The (mental) ties that bind: Cognitive struc-
tures that predict relationship resilience. Journal of Personality and Social Psy-
chology, 77, 1228–1244.
Murray, S. L., Homes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (2000). Self-esteem and the quest for
felt security: How perceived regard regulates attachment. Journal of Personal-
ity and Social Psychology, 78, 478–498.
Najman, J. M., Khatun, M., Mamun, A., Clavarino, A., Williams, G. M., Scott, J., . . .
Alati, R. (2014). Does depression experienced by mothers lead to a decline in
marital quality: A 21-year longitudinal study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric
Epidemiology, 49, 121–132.
Paykel, E. S., Myers, J. K., Dienelt, M. N., Klerman, G. L., Lindenthal, J. J., & Pep-
per, M. P. (1969). Life events and depression: A controlled study. Archives of
General Psychiatry, 21, 753–760.
Petty, S. C., Sachs-Ericsson, N., & Joiner, T. E. (2004). Interpersonal functioning defi-
cits: Temporary or stable characteristics of depressed individuals? Journal of
Affective Disorders, 81, 115–122.
Quilty, L. C., Dozois, D.J.A., Lobo, D.S.S., Ravindran, L. N., & Bagby, R. M. (2014).
Cognitive structure and processing during cognitive behavioral therapy vs.
pharmacotherapy for depression. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 7,
Quilty, L. C., Mainland, B. J., McBride, C., & Bagby, R. M. (2013). Interpersonal
problems and impacts: Further evidence for the role of interpersonal func-
tioning in treatment outcome in major depressive disorder. Journal of Affec-
tive Disorders, 150, 393–400.
Reifman, A., & Crohan, S. E. (1993). Perceiving one’s romantic partner: Schema
structure and affective extremity. Cognition and Emotion, 7, 473–480. https://
Rusbult, C. E., Kumashiro, M., Kubacka, K. E., & Finkel, E. J. (2009). “The part of
me that you bring out”: Ideal similarity and the Michelangelo phenomenon.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 61–82.
Rusbult, C. E., Martz, J. M., & Agnew, C. R. (1998). The investment model scale:
Measuring commitment level, satisfaction level, quality of alternatives, and
investment size. Personal Relationships, 5, 357–391.
Seeds, P. M., & Dozois, D.J.A. (2010). Prospective evaluation of a cognitive vulner-
ability-stress model for depression: The interaction of schema self-structures
and negative life events. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 66, 1307–1323.
Sheets, E. S., & Craighead, W. E. (2014). Comparing chronic interpersonal and
noninterpersonal stress domains as predictors of depression recurrence in
emerging adults. Research and Therapy, 63, 36–42.
Showers, C. J., & Kevlyn, S. B. (1999). Organization of knowledge about a relation-
ship partner: Implications for liking and loving. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 76, 958–971.
Showers, C. J., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2004). Organization of partner knowledge: Rela-
tionship outcomes and longitudinal change. Personality & Social Psychology
Bulletin, 30, 1198–1210.
Slotter, E. B., & Gardner, W. L. (2009). Where do you end and I begin? Evidence
for anticipatory, motivated self–other integration between relationship part-
ners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1137–1151. https://doi.
Whisman, M. A. (2001). Marital adjustment and outcome following treatment for
depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 125–129.
Whisman, M. A., & Bruce, M. L. (1999). Marital distress and incidence of major
depressive episode in a community sample. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,
108, 674−678.
Whisman, M. A., & Delinsky, S. S. (2002). Marital satisfaction and an information-
processing measure of partner-schemas. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 26,
... For example, highly negative partner-schemas have been associated with reduced relationship satisfaction in both dating couples (Chatav & Whisman, 2009) and married dyads (Whisman & Delinsky, 2002). Wilde and Dozois (2018) found that partner-schema structures characterized by highly organized negative information and loosely interconnected positive information about a partner were associated with lower levels of dyadic adjustment, satisfaction, and commitment. Partner-schema organization has also been associated with self-reported and observed relationship quality (Campbell, Butzer, & Wong, 2008;Reifman & Crohan, 1993;Showers & Kevlyn, 1999), self-reported likelihood of staying with one's partner (Reifman & Crohan, 1993), and attitudes of liking and loving towards a partner (Showers & Kevlyn, 1999). ...
... Specifically, highly negative partner-schema structures are associated with the tendency to make more distress-maintaining attributions about a partner's behavior (Chatav & Whisman, 2009;Showers & Kevlyn, 1999). Further, this association holds above and beyond the effects of self-schema structure (Wilde & Dozois, 2018). As such, emerging evidence from a small number of studies supports the notion that negative underlying partner-schema structures may represent a potential vulnerability for distressing relationship attributions. ...
... As such, the effects of self-related cognition in depression have received more empirical examination than the role of other-focused cognition (Gadassi & Rafaeli, 2015;Mineka, Rafaeli, & Yovel, 2003). Although an individual's self-schemas and attributions likely do influence cognition in relational interactions (e.g., negative self-views have been linked to underestimations of relationship quality; Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996;DeHart, Pelham, & Murray, 2004), emerging evidence suggests that self-schemas are not particularly strongly associated with aspects of relationship functioning (Wilde & Dozois, 2018). That is, the processing of partner-related information may represent its own pathway that uniquely contributes to depression through its effects on relationship processes. ...
Full-text available
Difficulties in romantic relationships are a prominent part of the disorder for many individuals with depression. Researchers have called for an integration of interpersonal and cognitive-behavioral theories to better understand the role of relational difficulties in depression. In this article, a novel theoretical framework (the dyadic partner-schema model) is presented. This model illustrates a potential pathway from underlying “partner-schema” structures to romantic relationship distress and depressive affect. This framework integrates cognitive-behavioral mechanisms in depression with research on dyadic processes in romantic partners. A brief clinical case example is presented to illustrate the utility of the dyadic partner-schema model in conceptualizing the treatment of depression. The implications of the model are discussed, and areas for future research are explored.
... Given the importance of interpersonal schemas, a recent line of my research has focused on how the content and structure of these interpersonal schemas impact stress generation and interpersonal behaviors in depression (Dobson, Quigley, & Dozois, 2014;Dozois & Rnic, 2015;Evraire & Dozois, 2011Wilde & Dozois, 2018, 2019Wilde et al., in press). For example, several studies have demonstrated that core beliefs related to abandonment (and anxious attachment) are associated with excessive reassurance seeking (ERS; e.g., Evraire et al., 2011Evraire, Ludmer, & Dozois, 2014). ...
... These ongoing maladaptive interactions and cognitive processes (e.g., activation of schemas and attributions) contribute to depression and relationship dissatisfaction and further reinforce and consolidate highly organized, negative self-and partnerschema structures. For instance, Wilde and Dozois (2018) found that partner-schemas predicted relationship quality and one's attributions about the relationship over and above self-schemas (whereas self-schemas predicted depression more than did partnerschemas). Although some empirical support exists for this model, we are just beginning to test its various components and predictions, and further validation research is needed. ...
... In this sense, Wilde and Dozois (2018) found associations between partner schema and relationship satisfaction. Partner schemas containing concepts which are highly associated with a negative valence and poorly associated with a positive valence negatively explained part of the variance of relationship satisfaction. ...
... Despite the importance of social schemas in an individual's romantic life, studies that investigate actual romantic relationship and partner schemas are relatively rare. Furthermore, the instruments employed in studies to measure such schemas use previously defined concepts (e.g., Jose et al. 2010;Rowley 1995;Whisman and Delinsky 2002;Wilde and Dozois 2018). Although it presents advantages, this method conditions the set of concepts of the researched schemas to the screening of the researchers. ...
Full-text available
This study identifies concepts associated with positive valence of romantic relationship and partner, in order to characterize the schemas about these two phenomena. Participants (N = 158, 134 women) were asked to write about the positive aspects of their relationship and their partner. These reports were subjected to lexical and content analysis. Nineteen categories emerged, related to the concepts that compose the relationship schema, and 21 others related to the partner. Words and categories most frequently mentioned to characterize positive aspects of the relationship were companionship and trust, and to characterize positive aspects of the partner were caring and affectionate. There was recurrence in words and categories used among participants, indicating consensus about which aspects are positive in a relationship and a romantic partner. Differences in relationship satisfaction levels between those who mentioned and those who did not mention categories created from the reports were tested. Individuals who mentioned categories as companionship, affection, respect, and dialogue showed higher levels of satisfaction than those who did not mention these categories. The results suggest that the schemes can provide indicators of satisfaction with the relationship.
... Similarly, to reveal the valence and complexity of self-schema content, participants have sorted positive and negative adjectives into groups representing different selfaspects (Linville, 1987;see Rafaeli-Mor et al., 1999). More recently, to assess the degree of interconnection in schema content for separate self and partner-schema structures, a modification of the Psychological Distance Scaling Task (Dozois & Dobson, 2001) involves participants rating the descriptiveness and valence of adjectives (Wilde & Dozois, 2018). Although each of these methods and procedures have advanced our understanding of the self-schema construct, they differ from the RSSM in their reliance on valenced adjectives for assessing self-schema features. ...
Full-text available
Modern self-schema theory posits multiple representations in memory of the self, with each individual self-schema possessing associative connections to relational contexts (i.e., self-with-other). However, existing self-schema measures typically assess a generalized self unmoored from context. In two studies, we present a new instrument—the Relational Self-Schema Measure (RSSM)—designed to represent the self-schema construct with greater content validity. In Study 1, 512 adults completed an initial version of the RSSM that was subjected to exploratory factor analyses. Support emerged for a reduced four-factor model that included relatedness satisfaction, control satisfaction, self-esteem/status frustration, and autonomy frustration psychological need themes. In Study 2, 516 adults completed a revised RSSM along with measures of self-esteem, attachment, and mood and anxiety symptoms. A separate sample of 191 college students completed the revised RSSM and a measure of dysfunctional attitudes. Confirmatory factor analyses supported the same four-factor model. Moreover, the RSSM exhibited good convergent and discriminant validity as well as incremental validity in predicting positive affect, distress, and anxiety symptoms. Finally, significant within-person variability was apparent across relational schemata that accounted for additional variance in positive affect, distress, and anxiety symptoms.
... Consistent with this idea, research has demonstrated an association between negative partner-schema structures and negative ways of thinking about romantic partners and interpreting their behaviors (attributions) in relationships (Chatav & Whisman, 2009;Showers & Kevlyn, 1999;Wilde & Dozois, 2018). Moreover, these types of distressmaintaining attributions about romantic partners have been shown to be associated with a number of negative relationship behaviors, including more frequent conflict (Davey, Fincham, Beach, & Brody, 2001;Marshall, Jones, & Feinberg, 2011); a greater tendency to criticize one's partner (Peterson & Smith, 2011); increased displays of disgust, scorn, contempt (Osterhout, Frame, & Johnson, 2011), and anger ) toward a romantic partner; greater avoidance behaviors and fewer positive behaviors during problem-solving discussions studies 1 and 2); and more maladaptive strategies for managing relationship conflict (Davey et al., 2001). ...
Relationship difficulties are an associated feature of depression that often exacerbate symptomatology over time. In this chapter, the dyadic partner-schema model (Wilde & Dozois, 2019) of relationship distress and depression is reviewed. This model integrates research on cognitive and interpersonal contributors to depression and proposes a pathway from underlying “partner-schema” structures to romantic relationship distress and depressive affect. The main hypotheses of this model are outlined, and the clinical implications are discussed. Directions for future research are reviewed.
... Beck et al. (1979) stated that depressive people deemed themselves as unlovable and worthless. Indeed, previous evidence indicated that negative self-schema was associated with depression (Dozois 2007;Wilde and Dozois 2018). The present findings also suggest that while DEM, along with AWF, is an important predictor of depressive symptoms. ...
Full-text available
We conduct a cross-sectional study to examine gender differences in the organizational structure of irrational/rational beliefs in the symptoms of depression in a sample of undergraduate students (N = 476). The findings suggest that the psychological distress and health models of REBT are valid for both genders. The demandingness, as the primary irrational belief process, indirectly predicts depressive symptoms through the secondary irrational belief process (awfulizing) for both males and females. However, there are some gender differences. Frustration intolerance has a unique contribution to the symptoms of depressive for males, while global evaluation of self plays a vital role in the relationship between demandingness and depressive symptoms for females. Regarding the psychological health model, findings suggest that the primary rational belief process (preference) predicts the symptoms of depression through secondary rational belief processes (non-awfulizing) for both genders. However, unconditional self-acceptance beliefs play a significant role in this relationship only for women. Furthermore, current findings suggest that the indirect predictive effect of demandingness on the symptoms of depression via global evaluation of self and awfulizing beliefs differs depending on the level of non-awfulizing and unconditional self-acceptance beliefs for women. Non-awfulizing beliefs function as a protective factor against the indirect predictive effect of demandingness on depressive symptoms via awfulizing beliefs for the total sample. We discussed the potential theoretical and clinical implications in detail.
... These findings are in line with the previous research findings. [21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29] In this research, the effect of the aforementioned variables on blended families or second (or more) marriages was studied for the first time. To explain the continuation and the increase in the dyadic adjustment of spouses in their second marriages or the blended families, it could be stated that their child mode is so strong that it can pose the risks of maladjustment and divorce to the subsequent marriages if it is not treated and corrected properly. ...
Full-text available
Aims: The lack of adjustment of couples is not only devastating families but also ruin family relationships in second marriage. The aim of the study was to explain the couples' adjustment model based on the components of the schematic modes and coping styles among blended and normal families. Materials and Methods: The research method was descriptive from type of correlation. The statistical population consisted of normal and blended families of Mazandaran. Samples were selected through stratified random sampling (313 normal and 250 blended). To gather the data, the Spaniel Marital Adjustment Scale (1976), schematic questionnaire (1999), and the Ultra Extreme Compensation Questionnaire (1994) were used. To analyze the data, path analysis was used. Results: The findings showed that in both families, childhood and dysfunctional modes predict couple adjustment in a negative way (P < 0.05), and dysfunctional parenting mode has negative significant effect on couples adjustment in normal and not significant in blended families. The healthy adult mode has positive significant effect in normal and nonsignificant effect on the blended couples. Conclusions: Based on the findings, especially in the blended families that is the weakness of healthy adult modes and the emotional changes of couples in the components of the schematic modes suggest a decline in the compatibility of the spouses.
Past research has linked the development of borderline personality disorder to earlier exposure to violence. However, the causal link by which this relationship exists has not yet been fully identified. The present study sought to examine how exposure to violence predicted heterogeneity in the development of depressive systems and results in the arousal of borderline personality disorder symptoms in adulthood. The Pathways to Desistance data were used in the analyses. This data set consisted of the responses of 1354 juvenile offenders followed across 7 years. Group-based trajectory modeling was used to identify latent trajectories of depressive symptoms. Ordinary least squares regression was used to model covariate effects on borderline personality disorder symptoms in adulthood. Results indicated that a three-group depression trajectory model best fit the data. Direct victimization early in life was associated with increased borderline personality disorder symptoms in adulthood. When trajectory group assignment was accounted for in the model, the relationship between direct victimization and borderline personality disorder symptoms was attenuated by around 30%. Implications are discussed.
Full-text available
Objective: This study examined the relation of change in theory-relevant cognitive variables to depressive symptom change over the course of cognitive therapy, as well as the specificity of change mechanisms to cognitive therapy as compared with dynamic therapy. Method: There were 237 adult outpatients who were randomized to either cognitive (n = 119) or dynamic (n = 118) therapy for major depressive disorder in a community mental health setting. Assessments of compensatory skills (Ways of Responding Community Version and Self-Report Version), dysfunctional attitudes (Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale), and depressogenic schemas (Psychological Distance Scaling Task) were obtained at baseline and months 1, 2, and 5 following baseline. Primary outcome was measured using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. Results: Across both therapy conditions, change in all 3 cognitive domains was associated with concurrent change in depressive symptoms. After controlling for other cognitive variables, increased interconnectedness of the positive achievement-related schema was significantly associated with concurrent symptom change in cognitive (rp = .26, p < .001) but not dynamic therapy (rp = .08, p = .29). Increases in positive compensatory skills were associated with subsequent change in depressive symptoms in cognitive therapy (rp = -.36, p = .003), but not in dynamic therapy (rp = .11, p = .386). Conclusions: Results provide support for the compensatory skills model of cognitive therapy (CT) within a community mental health setting. Additional research is necessary to understand other possible mechanisms of change in CT in the community setting. (PsycINFO Database Record
Full-text available
Background: Evidence has converged to suggest that cognitive processing and content covary with depression severity, whereas indices of cognitive structure exhibit greater stability and promise as markers of vulnerability for depression. The objective of the current study was to investigate the temporal dynamics and causal role of cognitive structure and processing in treatment for depression. Method: A total of 104 patients with major depressive disorder were randomized to receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT; n = 54) or pharmacotherapy (n = 50). Patients completed the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D), Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II), Psychological Distance Scaling Task (PDST), Redundancy Card-Sorting Task (RCST), and Self-Referent Encoding Task (SRET) before, during, and after treatment. Results: Most cognitive indices exhibited change over treatment to a similar degree across both treatments. Evidence for the mediating role of cognition was limited, and not specific to CBT. Discussion: Results suggest that both cognitive structure and processing may be amenable to change, by both CBT and pharmacotherapy. The role of cognitive structure in the course of depression may require qualification.
Relationship science is a theory-rich discipline, but there have been no attempts to articulate the broader themes or principles that cut across the theories themselves. We have sought to fill that void by reviewing the psychological literature on close relationships, particularly romantic relationships, to extract its core principles. This review reveals 14 principles, which collectively address four central questions: (a) What is a relationship? (b) How do relationships operate? (c) What tendencies do people bring to their relationships? (d) How does the context affect relationships? The 14 principles paint a cohesive and unified picture of romantic relationships that reflects a strong and maturing discipline. However, the principles afford few of the sorts of conflicting predictions that can be especially helpful in fostering novel theory development. We conclude that relationship science is likely to benefit from simultaneous pushes toward both greater integration across theories (to reduce redundancy) and greater emphasis on the circumstances under which existing (or not-yet-developed) principles conflict with one another. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology Volume 68 is January 03, 2017. Please see for revised estimates.
Within the context of mental health disorders, the research examining the association between attachment and couples’ adjustment in general has been disappointingly lean. This includes consideration of the attachment representations of both members, as well as the dyadic attachment styles. This study analyzed the association between attachment and patient and partner’s individual and dyadic adjustment, as well as the associations between dyad attachment styles and patient and partner’s adjustment. The sample consisted of 54 couples, in which 1 member had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder (clinical groups), and 54 couples from the general population (control group). Participants completed the following self-report measures: Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), the quality of life (QoL) questionnaire EUROHIS-QOL-8, the Revised Dyadic Adjustment Scale (RDAS), and the Experiences in Close Relationship-Short Form (ECR-SF). The results depict that couples from the clinical groups presented lower levels of QoL and dyadic adjustment and higher levels of depressive and anxious symptoms as compared to couples from the general population. Couples from the clinical groups also showed higher scores on attachment anxiety and avoidance. Women who possessed a clinical diagnosis, in particular reported higher scores in attachment anxiety whereas men with a clinical diagnosis were found to engage in attachment avoidance. Regarding both dyadic attachment styles, dyads in which the 2 partners were insecurely attached had significantly poorer individual and dyadic adjustment compared with dyads in which both partners were secure. The clinical implications of the results are considered, as well as some key directives for future research. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved)
Our review proposes interpersonal perception as a mediator of the association between depression and interpersonal difficulties. Research suggests that such perception occurs on two levels. The first (Emotional Sharing System; ESS), basic and automatic, involves perceiving cues from others' nonverbal behavior. The second (Mental State Attribution System; MSAS), effortful and deliberate, involves inferring others' inner states using various sources of information. Evidence shows that depression is associated with lower accuracies at both levels of interpersonal perception, which in turn are associated with greater interpersonal difficulties. Gender differences found both in the depression–interpersonal difficulties link and in the depression–interpersonal perception link suggest it as a central moderator for consideration.We identified two main lacunae in the literature. First, ESS was not examined within close relationships whereas MSAS was not examined within clinical samples. Second, the role of interpersonal perception in the association between depression and interpersonal difficulties has rarely been tested.
AN extensive literature exists regarding the relationship of life events and depression. The largest group of studies has concerned the descriptive characterization of those events occurring at the onset of depression. There has been particular emphasis on actual or symbolic losses,1-4 including loss of self-esteem.5 Others have been concerned with the general presence or absence of stress at onset and have attempted to define a group of endogenous depressions, occurring in the absence of stress, and showing characteristic clinical features.6-8 Although it has been generally assumed that most depressions are reactions to events, some dissent has been expressed. Hudgens9 and his colleagues found events uncommon in the six months prior to onset of illness in 40 patients hospitalized with affective disorders. Winokur and Pitts10 reported reactive depressions to be infrequent and threw doubt on the validity of
Early research on cognitive vulnerability demonstrated that maladaptive thinking waxes and wanes with depression. However, studies that have tested the diathesis-stress components of Beck's model using naturalistic or experimental mood manipulations have provided empirical support for the model's contention that there are three main levels of thinking involved in the onset, maintenance and exacerbation of depression: depressive self-schemas, maladaptive beliefs/assumptions and negative automatic thoughts. This theory has served as the catalyst for a veritable explosion of research in the area of cognitive vulnerability to depression. Most contemporary cognitive models of depression have involved refinements and expansions of this basic diathesis-stress framework. This chapter reviews the evidence pertaining to Beck's theory, highlighting research related to schemas, beliefs and assumptions. Empirical studies that bear on the theoretical assumption that schemas develop early in life are discussed and factors that impinge on the development of negative beliefs and schemas are highlighted.
The authors proposed that personal feelings of self-esteem foster the level of confidence in a partner's regard critical for satisfying attachments. Dating and married couples described themselves, their partners, how they thought their partners saw them, and how they wanted their partners to see them on a variety of interpersonal qualities. The results revealed that low self-esteem individuals dramatically underestimated how positively their partners saw them. Such unwarranted and unwanted insecurities were associated with less generous perceptions of partners and lower relationship well-being. The converse was true for high self-esteem individuals. A longitudinal examination of the dating couples revealed that the vulnerabilities of lows were only exacerbated over rime. A dependency regulation model is proposed, wherein felt security in a partner's perceived regard is suggested as a prime mechanism linking self-esteem to relational well-being.
The relationships between cognitive products (e.g., self-perception) and cognitive structure (or organization) in clinically depressed adolescents and nonpsychiatric controls (average age = 14.68) were examined. Adolescents with major depressive disorder showed significantly higher scores than did controls on the Young Schema Questionnaire domains of Disconnection, Impaired Autonomy, and Impaired Limits. These individuals also demonstrated poorer self-concept than controls on scholastic abilities, social acceptance, athletic competence, physical appearance, job competence, behavioral conduct, and global self-worth, as well as perceptions of limited social networks. The organization of self-referent adjectives was more tightly interconnected for negative content and less interconnected for positive content in depressed adolescents than in nonpsychiatric controls. Specificity of cognitive organization to themes of interpersonal and achievement beliefs/self-perceptions was also found, particularly for positive content. Implications of the findings for the cognitive vulnerability model of depression and future directions are discussed.
Describes experiments in which happy or sad moods were induced in Ss by hypnotic suggestion to investigate the influence of emotions on memory and thinking. Results show that (a) Ss exhibited mood-state-dependent memory in recall of word lists, personal experiences recorded in a daily diary, and childhood experiences; (b) Ss recalled a greater percentage of those experiences that were affectively congruent with the mood they were in during recall; (c) emotion powerfully influenced such cognitive processes as free associations, imaginative fantasies, social perceptions, and snap judgments about others' personalities; (d) when the feeling-tone of a narrative agreed with the reader's emotion, the salience and memorability of events in that narrative were increased. An associative network theory is proposed to account for these results. In this theory, an emotion serves as a memory unit that can enter into associations with coincident events. Activation of this emotion unit aids retrieval of events associated with it; it also primes emotional themata for use in free association, fantasies, and perceptual categorization. (54 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)