African Americans’ Relationship Quality and Depressive Symptoms: A longitudinal investigation of the Marital Discord Model

Allen W. Barton, Justin A. Lavner, Naya C. Sutton, Shardé McNeil Smith, Steven R.H. Beach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study was designed to examine the complex bidirectional associations between relationship quality and depressive symptoms among AfricanAmerican couples. Informed by the Marital Discord Model, particular attention was devoted to understanding the unique associations of positive and negative dimensions of relationship functioning with depressive symptoms over time, the time frames over which these effects occur, and the model’s applicability for African American couples. One hundred seventy-four African American couples (N = 348 individuals) provided information on depressive symptoms, relationship satisfaction, ineffective arguing, and partner support four times over a 25-month period. Hypotheses were tested using Random-Intercept Cross-Lagged Panel Models to separate between and within-person effects. Results indicated that between-person associations with depressive symptoms were significant for relationship satisfaction (negative association) and ineffective arguing (positive association), but not partner support. Within-person concurrent effects were also significant with depressive symptoms and each of the relationship processes under investigation. Within-person 8-month lagged effects were only significant for partner support and depressive symptoms (negative association); these effects were significant in both directions, but stronger from support to depressive symptoms than from depressive symptoms to support. Study findings provide increased conceptual and analytic precision for understanding the association between couples’ relationship quality and African Americans’ mental health, including malleable relationship factors that can be targeted in family-focused interventions to promote individual and couple well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1061–1072
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2022


  • African american couples
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Marital discord model
  • Random-intercept cross-lagged panel model
  • Relationship functioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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