"He's more typically female because he's not afraid to cry": connecting heterosexual gender relations and men's depression

John L Oliffe, Mary T Kelly, Joan L Bottorff, Joy L Johnson, Sabrina T Wong
Social Science & Medicine 2011, 73 (5): 775-82
Depression, a disorder often thought of as a women's health issue, is underreported in men, and little is known about how heterosexual couples respond when the male partner is depressed. Within the context of men's depression, couples may be challenged to make life adjustments that impact their gender relations. The findings detailed in this article are drawn from an innovative qualitative study of 26 Canadian heterosexual couples (26 men and their 26 women partners) in which the man had a formal diagnosis and/or self-identified as depressed. Participants completed individual, semi structured interviews that focused on exploring how masculinities and femininities intersect to forge particular heterosexual gender relations in the context of men's depression. A social constructionist gender analysis revealed three couple patterns: trading places, business as usual, and edgy tensions. Trading places refers to couples who embodied some atypical masculine and feminine roles to compensate for the men's depression-induced losses (e.g., men as homemakers and women as breadwinners). Women partners in these dyads broke with feminine ideals in how they provided partner support by employing tough love strategies for self-protection and a means of prompting the men's self-management of their depression. Couples involved in business as usual co-constructed men's alignment with masculine workman ideals and women's support of their partner to counter and conceal men's depression induced-deficits. Also described were edgy tensions, where a mismatch of gender expectations fueled resentment and dysfunction that threatened the viability of some relationships. Overall, the limits of women's resilience and care-giving were evident, yet the findings also reveal how men's management of their depression was directly influenced by their partner. Opportunities for couples to assess their relationship dynamics within a broad range of gender relations might support couples' connectedness and life quality amid the challenges that accompany men's depression.

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