Uncovering the Most Toxic Pattern in Relationships

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Uncovering the Most Toxic Pattern in Relationships

There is a pattern of relationship interaction that is so invasive, toxic, and unfortunately common that it is considered a classic: Demand/Withdraw or DM/W.

Demand/Withdraw is such a strong predictor of marital dissatisfaction and divorce that it should be considered poison to your relationship and handled accordingly.

DM/W appears to be a conflict more likely to occur in relationships that are already under stress. In many situations, one spouse is depressed. Generally, the pattern plays out in a gender-specific way. Research finds women commonly play the demand role; the withdraw role is played by men. This is probably due to the way women and men are socialized.

Other research found that power and subject matter conflict contribute to the DM/W pattern. Often these relationships are characterized by a power imbalance. For example, the wife may be more dependent on the husband, either monetarily or emotionally, and has less decision-making ability. So she finds herself in a demanding role as it pertains to making changes. The husband is fine with the status quo, and withdraws from her demands. Therein lies the conflict.

Other factors, like personality difference, attachment styles, and perceptions of marriage developed early in life, are also critical points to consider. With all this in play, escalation is a built-in part of the DM/W pattern. Withdrawal creates increase in demand. Which, in turn, provokes greater withdrawal. The pattern layers more conflict on top of the original dispute.

The gender bias was not a factor in a study by Lauren Papp, Chrystyne D. Kouros, and E. Mark Cummings. Their work revealed new insights into the pattern:

  1. Instead of a gender bias, they observed that the initiator of the discussion, either wife or husband, took on the demand role.
  2. They confirmed that the likelihood of the pattern increased if one partner was depressed.

Recognizing the pattern is the first step toward rescuing your relationship from it. Still, you’ll likely need a therapist to make changes once it’s been established.

Read the full article here: Uncovering the Most Toxic Pattern in Relationships

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