The most toxic relationship pattern is called a ‘demand-withdraw’ pattern, psychologists find.
It is where one partner makes criticisms, complaints and requests, while the other withdraws, or gives them the silent treatment.
The best way of dealing with this pattern is by accepting and validating the other person’s identity.
This is done through improving communication.
Men should listen and understand their partner, while women should reduce their negativity and hostility.
When both partners can communicate problems and feel they understand each other, their marital satisfaction is higher.
In the ‘demand-withdraw’ pattern, often the partner making the demands is the woman and the partner withdrawing is the man, although it is damaging to both either way around.
Instead of withdrawing from conflict, men should try to hear and acknowledge their partner’s issue.
Hearing the issue, and at least trying to understand it, makes the other person feel validated.
Women, meanwhile, should concentrate on reducing the hostility and negativity of their communication — both of these only make men withdraw into their shell.
It is better to bring up issues as neutrally as possible so they can be heard.
The importance of being understood in a relationship was confirmed by a study of 53 married couples.
The study’s authors explain their results:
“The demand/withdrawal interaction pattern significantly decreases both spouses’ perception that they are understood.
An issue that one spouse sees as important and in need of discussion is not simply met with dissent, it is met with indifference.
The issue-pursuing spouse is left to feel as though his or her vision of what is important, real, and valid is dismissed as insignificant.”
The key to a successful relationship is that both partners accept and validate the other person’s identity.
The study’s authors explain why verifying your partner’s identity is so important:
“First, people tend to be attracted to those who verify their self-image.
Second, those who are skilled in maintaining their partner’s desired identity are rewarding relationship partners.
Third, the expectation that partners will accept and understand each other is a defining characteristic of intimate
Finally, trust develops in close relationships, in part, as a result of mutual verification of partners’ identities…”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (Weger, 2005).