Although there is substantial empirical support for a bidirectional association between relationship conflict and depression among couples, few studies have assessed this association among parents with a child on the autism spectrum. Further, individual characteristics that may moderate the conflict-depression link are not well understood, such as the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP; i.e., milder, but qualitatively similar forms of autism characteristics), which are often elevated in parents of children on the autism spectrum. The present study tested the bidirectional relation between conflict and depressive symptoms in parents of a child on the autism spectrum and assessed BAP as a moderator of this relation using a longitudinal, multimethod design. Participants were 117 couples (89.1% married, Mlength = 16.90 years, SD = 5.85) with a child on the autism spectrum. Couples completed an in-lab conflict interaction, which was observationally coded; self- and partner- reports of relationship conflict; and self-reports of their own depressive symptoms and BAP. There was a significant negative association between Time 1 (T1) husband depressive symptoms and Time 2 (T2) relationship conflict such that higher depressive symptoms were associated with lower relationship conflict six months later. BAP significantly moderated the link between wives’ T1 relationship conflict and concurrent depressive symptoms such that at lower levels of relationship conflict, wives with higher BAP reported higher levels of depressive symptoms compared to those with lower BAP. These findings are partially consistent with hypotheses and research linking relationship conflict with depressive symptoms, and the BAP with relationship difficulties. This study is the first to provide evidence for BAP as a contextual factor that moderates the association between relationship conflict and depressive symptoms. These findings provide implications for intervening with couples raising a child on the autism spectrum.
Chrystyna Kouros, PhD
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Carson, Chelsea, "Relationship Conflict and Depressive Symptoms in Couples: The Moderating Role of the Broad Autism Phenotype" (2022). Psychology Theses and Dissertations. 34.
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