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The “ABCDE” Behaviors that Derail Relationships When You are Feeling Depressed

The acronym “ABCDE” refers to certain types of communication behaviors that increase conflict and marital/intimate relationship distress. These behaviors get heightened when one is depressed as depression rekindles negative irrational thought patterns such as all-or-none thinking, overgeneralization,  jumping to conclusions, blowing things out of proportion, taking things personally, disqualifying positives, and negatively labeling self or others. Here's what you need to avoid during communication with your partner (Beach et al., 1998; Christensen et al., 2014; Starr & Davila, 2008):

Accusation: Accusations usually are “You always …” or “You never…” statements. Accusations may have some kernel of truth in them, but that gets exaggerated and dramatized by the heat of the argument. Accusations lead to counteraccusations and defensiveness and takes away the focus from one’s own shortcomings and also from resolving the conflict on hand.

Blame: Individuals may blame their partner’s actions for a problem or blame their mental illness, moral weakness, or personal inadequacies for the problems the couple is facing. For example, “If you had taken those medications, then we would have been able to go on this trip.”

Coercion: People use coercion to force their partners to do what they want by making demands, threats, nagging, criticizing, complaining, and inducing guilt. The partner at the receiving end gives into the coercion as they want peace and this reinforces the behavior of the coercive partner. However, over time the receiving partner may get used to this coercion and ignore the demands of the coercive partner, which may result in the latter escalating their coercive tactics, eventually leading to more marital discord.  

Defensiveness: Defensiveness is the usual reaction of a partner on the receiving end of accusation or blame, but only adds to the argument and conflict. Defensiveness really amounts to saying, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” The innocent victim stance is not an uncommon variant of defensiveness (Gottman & Silver, 2015). The user of this stance often whines and sends the message, “Why are you picking on me? What about all the good things I do? There’s no pleasing you.”

Excessive reassurance seeking: Excessive reassurance seeking is repeatedly requesting reassurance from your partner that you are lovable and worthy. Examples include, “Do you still love me?” or “Am I a good person?” or “Are you going to stay with me?” Excessive reassurance seeking wears out your partner and they start feeling burdened, frustrated, and helpless and their reassurances start getting tinged with irritation. This then leads to either true or perceived rejection that develops, maintains, and worsens depression and with higher levels of depression, the demands for reassurance also increase, thus creating a vicious cycle (Allen, 2006).



Allen, J. G. (2006). Coping with depression: From catch-22 to hope. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

Beach, S. R. H., Fincham, F. D., & Katz, J. (1998). Marital therapy in the treatment of depression: toward a third generation of therapy and research. Clinical Psychology Review, 18(6), 625-661.

Christensen, A., Doss, B. D., & Jacobson, N. S. (2014). Reconcilable differences (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Gottman J. M., & Silver, N (2015). The seven principles for making marriage workNew York, NY: Harmony Books.

Starr, L. R., & Davila, J. (2008). Excessive reassurance seeking, depression, and interpersonal rejection. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117 (4), 762-775. 


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