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Marriage Problems Linked to Emotional Disconnection Disorder

Marriage problems

About half the marriages in the United States end in divorce, and there are many reasons why these relationships do not endure. One reason for divorce and marriage problems has been linked to emotional disconnection disorder, also known as alexithymia.

Why some couples don't communicate

Sometimes it seems that the more ways we have to communicate with each other (phone, text, email, fax, snail mail, video), the less adapt we are at doing so. Marriage is a relationship that can thrive when communication is good between partners but suffer miserably when it is not.

At the University of Missouri, researchers examined the prevalence of alexithymia among 155 heterosexual couples. The study was headed by Nick Frye-Cox, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

Alexithymia (which comes from the Greek and literally means "no words for emotions), is a psychological condition characterized by an inability to identify and verbally describe one's own emotions and the emotions of other people as well. People affected by alexithymia also have a limited ability to think in imaginative ways and to experience dreams or fantasies.

Instead, individuals with alexithymia focus on facts and have an external way of thinking that often leaves other people to describe them as aloof, unfeeling, and unable to empathize with others, including their family and other loved ones. It's easy to see, therefore how these traits would make it difficult to maintain a successful marriage.

Frye-Cox and his team gathered information from both spouses in the study group and determined that 7.5 percent of the men and 6.5 percent of the women fulfilled the criteria for alexithymia. These percentages are in line with those found in previous research.

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Researchers pointed out that when one spouse has alexithymia, the other individual can feel lonely and suffer from a lack of intimacy and fulfilling communication. "People with alexithymia have trouble relating to others and tend to become uncomfortable during conversations," noted Frye-Cox. For example, they can physically experience sweaty palms but emotionally they cannot identify feelings such as happiness, sadness, or anger.

One might wonder why people with alexithymia get married or attempt to establish intimate relationships, but Frye-Cox noted that even though they have this disorder, they still experience the basic human need to bond and belong.

After they do marry, however, they are often faced with the challenge of communicating with their partner and can feel lonely. These difficulties appear "to be related to lower marital quality," Frye-Cox explained, and can contribute to divorce.

Another interesting feature of alexithymia is that it is related to autism spectrum disorder, panic disorder, eating disorders, depression, and substance abuse, as well as post-traumatic stress disorders.

According to another co-author of the study, Colin Hesse, assistant professor in the Department of Communication, his previous research has indicated that use of affectionate communication between partners, such as hugging or touching, can be helpful in improving communication and intimacy between partners when one is affected by alexithymia, or emotional disconnection disorder.

SOURCES: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics
University of Missouri

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