November 13, 2012
Marriage Threatened By Personality Traits
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Nick Frye-Cox of the University of Missouri has recently published a study that details a particular threat to marriages and other intimate relationships. Frye-Cox is a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Along with other researchers, his contention is that persons who possess a certain dissociative personality trait unwittingly harm their personal relationships.
While communication can be challenging for individuals who are intimate with one another, the trait, referenced above, called alexithymia, is a further impediment to open communication between spouses or loved ones. The research team has concluded that when one partner in a relationship suffers from alexithymia, both can experience profound loneliness and a lack of intimate communication that can lead to poor marital quality.
A person with alexithymia very often appears to many as one who is superadjusted to reality. This is because they tend to think in very concrete, realistic and logical terms. Unfortunately, this dry thinking too often leads to the exclusion of emotional responses to problems.
Deficiencies of sufferers could include such things as problems identifying, describing and working with one´s own feelings. This is often marked by a lack of understanding of the feelings of others, as well. They also will suffer difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal, such as sweaty palms for nervousness or heat flush with anger.
Another noteworthy characteristic of the condition includes the inability to dream or fantasize due to what researchers have claimed a restricted imagination. Dreams that have been reported by sufferers tend be very logical and realistic. Clinical experience has suggested that it is the structural features of dreams rather than an ability to recall them that is an important signifier of alexithymia.
Many sufferers seem to present the appearance of a contradiction to the above mentioned characteristics because they can experience chronic dysphoria or break out into fits of crying or rage. However, when questioned by experienced professionals, it is usually revealed that they are incapable of providing a description of their feelings or even appear somewhat confused about questions that are inquiring about specific feelings.
According to the late Peter Sifneos, MD, it is a common misconception that individuals afflicted with alexithymia are totally unable to express emotions verbally or that they fail to recognize that they experience emotions at all. He had noted that patients would often mention that they felt anxiety or depression. The distinguishing factor of the condition is their overall inability to elaborate beyond a few limited adjectives, like ℠happy´ or ℠unhappy´ when describing their feelings. It is this inability that contributes to an emotional detachment from themselves and creates difficulty when trying to connect with others.
“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.”
Despite this seeming disconnect, sufferers of alexythymia often marry because they still feel the basic human need to belong. This need, like eating or sleeping, is just fundamental, according to Frye-Cox..
“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.”
For this study, data was collected from both spouses in 155 heterosexual couples. Frye-Cox states that the proportion of alexithymic individuals in this sampling, 7.5 percent of men and 6.5 percent of women, is a representation that is consistent with the general population. Alexithymia is often recognized with other conditions on the autism spectrum. It is also found with post-traumatic stress disorders, eating and panic disorders, substance abuse and depression.
The study, entitled “Alexithymia and marital quality: The mediating roles of loneliness and intimate communication,” is to be published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
Co-author of the study Colin Hesse, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, has pointed out that, via previous research he had conducted, affectionate communication, such as hugging or touching, could be beneficial to those who have high levels of alexithymia, allowing them to lead more fulfilling lives.