When you have a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you withdraw like a turtle into its shell? Or perhaps you expect your partner to be a mind reader about what ticks you off? Those are
two of the most common types of disengagement in relationships, and both can be harmful, but in different ways and for different reasons, says researcher Keith Sanford, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences.
Withdrawing when a partner criticizes or complains is “more characteristic of unhappiness. Just about everyone does that from time to time, but you see more of that in distressed relationships,” Sanford said.
The research showed that individuals were more likely to report withdrawal if they were bored, disinterested or apathetic. “There’s a desire to maintain autonomy, control and distance,” Sanford said.
Meanwhile, those who expected a partner to know what is wrong without being told are anxious, feeling neglected rather than threatened.
“You’re worried about how much your partner loves you, and that’s associated with neglect. You feel sad, hurt and vulnerable,” Sanford said.
Conflicts in which one partner expects the other to read minds were more likely to lead to negative communication and anger — and that can lead to a Catch-22.
“Often, you have one person who withdraws and the other demands. The more the one demands and complains, the more the other withdraws, and so on,” Sanford said.
“It’s an issue both of being aware of when these behaviors are occurring and of finding an alternative — a more constructive, polite approach to resolve conflict,” he said. “And at times, that’s easier said than done.”
For more tips on how you can effectively resolve conflict in your marriage, check out For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage and When Divorce is NOT An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.