Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment

The Silent Treatment

The Silent Treatment

[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.]

I’ve discussed the common (and usually unhappy) pairing of the Anxious-Preoccupied with a Dismissive in this post.

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.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


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: Secure
Type: Anxious-Preoccupied
Type: Dismissive-Avoidant
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
Malignant Narcissists
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


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