Romantic relationships are based on trust, respect, and communication. Having open and honest discussions about emotional topics is an intimate exchange that builds strength and commitment in a relationship. Women, who rely more on verbal communication than physical communication, are generally more comfortable with disclosing their emotional vulnerabilities than men are. Being unable to adequately conceptualize and verbalize emotions is a condition referred to as alexithymia. It is not uncommon for people with depression, PTSD, eating problems, and anxiety to have varying levels of alexithymia. Although this lack of emotional expression can detrimentally affect interpersonal relationships, it is unclear how alexithymia works to affect the dyad of the intimate romantic relationship.
Patricia Eid of the Department of Sexology at the University of Quebec in Montreal led a study to examine this effect more closely. In her study, Eid analyzed 84 couples using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale and the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. She found that when alexithymia was present in men, it negatively affected their relationship satisfaction and also the overall relationship adjustment of their partners. When women reported alexithymia, however, it only affected their relationship satisfaction negatively and did not have a deleterious effect on their partner’s adjustment.
Eid believes this could be due to the fact that men are less likely to express themselves verbally than women. This is especially true for men who adhere to masculine norms and believe emotional vulnerability is a sign of weakness. By concealing their emotions, men may believe they are projecting an image of power and control. “Although alexithymia may, in theory, bring some social evolutionary advantage to men, it seems to bring some disadvantages for them in intimate relationships,” said Eid. In sum, the results of this study demonstrate unique patterns of adjustment for men and women in a relationship with alexithymia. Emotional disclosure in general is very important to relationship satisfaction for both men and women. However, men are much less affected by their partners’ emotional repression than women are.
Eid, Patricia, and Sophie Boucher. Alexithymia and dyadic adjustment in intimate relationships: Analyses using the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 31.10 (2012): 1095-111. Print.
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