Science Daily has a story on a big meta-analysis of 74 studies, including more than 14,000 participants, “A Meta-Analytical Review of the Demand/Withdraw Pattern of Interaction and its Associations with Individual, Relational, and Communicative Outcomes,” published in Communication Monographs (March, 2014).
The studies cover what happens to relationships where the Preoccupied partner makes increasing demands for reassurance, while the Dismissive partner fails to respond, either deflecting/avoiding or going silent — the “silent treatment.”
“It’s the most common pattern of conflict in marriage or any committed, established romantic relationship,” says Paul Schrodt, Ph.D., professor and graduate director of communication studies at Texas Christian University. “And it does tremendous damage.”
Schrodt led a meta-analysis of 74 studies, including more than 14,000 participants, “A Meta-Analytical Review of the Demand/Withdraw Pattern of Interaction and its Associations with Individual, Relational, and Communicative Outcomes,” published in Communication Monographs (March, 2014).
Research shows couples engaged in demand-withdraw pattern experience lower relationship satisfaction, less intimacy and poorer communication. The damage can be emotional and physical; the presence of demand-withdraw pattern is associated with anxiety and aggression as well as physiological effects (urinary, bowel or erectile dysfunction).
It’s also a very hard pattern to break.
“Partners get locked in this pattern, largely because they each see the other as the cause,” says Schrodt. “Both partners see the other as the problem.” Ask the wife — whom research shows is more often the demanding partner — and she’ll complain that her husband is closed off, emotionally unavailable. Ask the husband and he’ll say he might open up if she’d just back off.
Regardless of the role each partner plays, the outcome is equally distressing.
“One of the most important things we found is that even though wife-demand/husband-withdraw occurs more frequently, it’s not more or less damaging,” he says. No matter what part each partner plays, it’s the pattern itself that’s the problem. “It’s a real, serious sign of distress in the relationship.”
See the hyperactivation pattern in the page Emotional Communication. The Anxious-Preoccupied will remain in this stressful pattern for much longer than a more secure person, who would start to move to the attachment-avoidance strategy, hastening a breakup of the relationship. This is how these relationships last despite the stress and negative consequences for both partners, who are unable to break out of the pattern.
It’s important to note both partners are capable of adjusting their communication styles to make their relationship more satisfying to both; while it is harder for the Dismissive, who often don’t see a reason to change, they can learn to respond reassuringly more often. Discussion of the problem can help, especially if the Anxious-Preoccupied partner learns to rely more on inner assurance and reduce the rate and insistence of messages requesting reassurance.
Dr. John Gottman’s book (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) is a great guide on how to strive for secure attachment with your partner by open and positive communication combined with empathy. The post The Science of Happily Ever After” – Couples Communications covers the basics of his suggestions.
[Note: if you arrived here looking for insight into a dismissive or fearful-avoidant spouse or lover, I’ve just published a book on the topic: Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner.]
Also on this topic:
“Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)”
“Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level”
“Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?”
““Bad Boyfriends” – Useful for Improving Current Relationships”
Dismissive-Avoidants as Parents
More on Attachment and Personality Types:
What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
nxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy
Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
Sale! Sale! Sale! – “Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
Controlling Your Inner Critic: Subpersonalities
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management