Adopting New Identities When a Partner has Depression: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis


  • Fiona E. Glenn
  • Kenneth M. McFadyen
  • Zounish Rafique


In Western cultures, the mental distress of a partner has been associated with significant impacts for the individual, with feelings of stress and burnout associated with the caregiving role (e.g. Stjernswärd & Östman, 2008). Research has begun to explore the lived experience of being in a couple relationship with an individual experiencing depression, however further research is needed, particularly with regard to the roles and identities they adopt in response to the depression. Five adults participated in the research; all were in heterosexual relationships with a partner who had experienced depression during the course of their relationship. Participants were recruited through support services and from general community settings. Interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview format, with the use of an interview schedule. Analysis was conducted using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009) to identify the meaning made from this experience. Three superordinate themes emerged from the data, conceptualizing depression, re-evaluating the relationship, and negotiating new identities. This research demonstrated the importance of support for those in a relationship with someone experiencing depression, particularly in the complex task of negotiating changing roles and in moderating the emotional impact upon themselves. There is a need for greater awareness of the impact of these experiences on their partners.