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Most people in relationships have felt, at one time or another, a lack of communication. A common gender trope has a woman griping to her friends, “He just won’t open up.” But it’s not always about the differences in genders; sometimes, a person doesn’t open up because they honestly don’t know what they’re feeling. The inability to, or difficulty in, understanding, expressing, and describing one’s emotional experience is a trait called alexithymia.
Alexithymia, while effectively isolating a person, does not always prevent them from forming personal bonds like marriage, and impacts the emotion we feel. The societal pressure to do so often overwhelms the difficulty in connecting with another person. But a spouse with alexithymia may have trouble relating to their partner and in opening up about how they’re feeling, ultimately leading to marital strife. Doctoral student Nick Frye-Cox studying this problem says, “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.”
Many marriages end in a nebulous way, wherein the couple involved can’t pinpoint exactly what happened. “We don’t understand each other” and “I feel like I’m living with a stranger” are often used. What if the gradual drifting apart, often seen as inevitable as the slow drifts of continents, can actually be linked back to a partner suffering from alexithymia? If you feel you or your partner may suffer from this, there are free available tests such as this one. Speaking to a psychologist may also be helpful and could forestall the need for a divorce, or at least help you better understand yourself for future relationships.
Written by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant