Communication problems with a spouse or partner often lead to problems. Now, a new study discovers that some couples are unable to share or even understand their own emotions, a condition that can lead to additional stress.
This condition of having difficulty sharing and understanding emotional issues is a personality trait called alexithymia.
When a partner has alexithymia, the partners can experience loneliness and a lack of intimate communication that leads to poor marital quality.
Nick Frye-Cox, a University of Missouri doctoral student says people with alexithymia can describe their physiological responses to events, such as sweaty palms or faster heartbeats, but are unable to identify their emotions as sad, happy or angry.
In addition, those with alexithymia have difficulty discerning the causes of their feelings or explaining variations in their emotions, he said.
“People with alexithymia have trouble relating to others and tend to become uncomfortable during conversations,” Frye-Cox said.
“The typical alexithymic person is incredibly stoic. They like to avoid emotional topics and focus more on concrete, objective statements.”
People with alexithymia avoid forming relationships; however, they get married because they still feel the basic human need to belong, which is just as fundamental as the need to eat or sleep, Frye-Cox said.
“Once they are married, alexithymic people are likely to feel lonely and have difficulty communicating intimately, which appears to be related to lower marital quality,” Frye-Cox said.
“People with alexithymia are always weighing the costs and benefits, so they can easily enter and exit relationships. They don’t think others can meet their needs, nor do they try to meet the needs of others.”
In the study, researchers collected data from both spouses in 155 heterosexual couples. The proportion of alexithymic people in the sample, 7.5 percent of men and 6.5 percent of women, is representative of the general population, according to previous research.
The trait is often found with other conditions on the autism spectrum, as well as with post-traumatic stress disorders. Studies also have shown that alexithymia has been related to eating and panic disorders, substance abuse and depression.
The study will be published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
Source: University of Missouri