Understanding general and specific connections between psychopathology and marital distress: A model based approach

Susan C. South, Robert F. Krueger, William G. Iacono

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Marital distress is linked to many types of mental disorders; however, no study to date has examined this link in the context of empirically based hierarchical models of psychopathology. There may be general associations between low levels of marital quality and broad groups of comorbid psychiatric disorders as well as links between marital adjustment and specific types of mental disorders. The authors examined this issue in a sample (N = 929 couples) of currently married couples from the Minnesota Twin Family Study who completed self-report measures of relationship adjustment and were also assessed for common mental disorders. Structural equation modeling indicated that (a) higher standing on latent factors of internalizing (INT) and externalizing (EXT) psychopathology was associated with lower standing on latent factors of general marital adjustment for both husbands and wives, (b) the magnitude of these effects was similar across husbands and wives, and (c) there were no residual associations between any specific mental disorder and overall relationship adjustment after controlling for the INT and EXT factors. These findings point to the utility of hierarchical models in understanding psychopathology and its correlates. Much of the link between mental disorder and marital distress operated at the level of broad spectrums of psychopathological variation (i.e., higher levels of marital distress were associated with disorder comorbidity), suggesting that the temperamental core of these spectrums contributes not only to symptoms of mental illness but to the behaviors that lead to impaired marital quality in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)935-947
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Externalizing
  • Internalizing
  • Marital distress
  • Psychopathology
  • SEM


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