How the Alexithymia Personality Trait Could be Damaging Healthy Marriages

Between 40 and 50 percent of married couples opt for divorce in the U.S. every year, according to the American Psychological Association. The source goes on to report that this figure rises for subsequent marriages.

While the root of divorce can vary from couple to couple, interpersonal communication researchers at the University of Missouri have shed new light on an unexpected reason why some individuals experience marital difficulties. Doctoral student Nick Frye-Cox of the university’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies and his team have authored a report that shows the personality trait called alexithymia prevents affected individuals from successfully understanding and sharing their own emotions. Frye-Cox’s study will soon be published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

According to Psychology Today, those with alexithymia lack the proper vocabulary necessary to recognize, label and communicate emotions and desires. This condition can range in its appearance as well. People living with hypo-expressive alexithymia display high physiological arousal, internalize emotions and have a low emotional education and competence. Alternately, those with hyper-expressive alexithymia have low physiological arousal, externalize expressive styles and tend to exhibit a low emotional education and competence.

Frye-Cox noted that while people living with alexithymia have difficulty forming meaningful relationships, they still feel the drive to belong to a greater community, which often pushes them toward marriage.

“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,” says Frye-Cox. “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.”

The study found that out of the 155 heterosexual couples surveyed, 7.5 percent of men and 6.5 percent of women displayed this personality trait, which is representative of the greater populace. Affected individuals often display similar conditions related to the autism spectrum, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression and panic disorders.

People with alexithymia can work toward building more meaningful relationships with their spouses through practicing frequent affectionate communication like hugging and touching, according to study co-author Colin Hesse’s previous work.