What is Alexithymia and How It Impacts Relationships?

What is Alexithymia and How It Impacts Relationships?

Feelings and emotions are an important part of a relationship. Without them, it's tough to connect, communicate, or feel satisfied with your partner. But what if your partner doesn't show any emotion toward you?

Not being able to feel and show emotion might be a sign that your partner has a condition called “Alexithymia”, also known as “emotional blindness.”
Alexithymia Kills Emotional Connection. As a divorce attorney and mediator, many people have reached out to me, sharing that their partner lacks emotions and that this “flatness” has ruined their marriage. These couples are at the end of their marriage. They are in my office to get a divorce. They cannot “feel” each other and, though there may still be love there, there is no emotional connection. 

What Will This Article Cover? In this article, I will help you uncover what Alexithymia is, how it presents, and how you, the non-Alexithymic partner, might be able to find enough compassion for your partner’s disorder to stay out of the divorce mediator’s office.

What Are the Common Signs of Alexithymia & What Causes It?

What Does Alexithymia Look Like? People with alexithymia have a hard time figuring out their emotions and sharing them with their partners. They might come across as distant and not very emotional because they struggle to express their feelings. In my experience, I've noticed that they often seem to: 
  • lack empathy, 
  • don't respond well to others' emotions, 
  • have a low tolerance for stress, and 
  • appear stiff and unable to smile. 
What Causes Alexithymia? No one is exactly sure what causes alexithymia. They do know, however, that alexithymia is often associated with the following: 
  • genetics
  • trauma and stress
  • depression, anxiety, OCD
  • traumatic brain injuries and diseases (such as Parkinson’s)
  • substance abuse
  • adverse childhood experiences (ACE)

Alexithymia is not a disease or disorder in and of itself. Instead, it is a condition associated with other psychological/emotional issues that a person may be suffering with. It does not usually appear all by itself.


Alexithymia and Its Impact on Romantic Relationships

Knowledge Helps With Compassion and Connection. Love can be a complex dance, especially when one partner struggles with alexithymia. While the emotional disconnect that this condition creates can strain relationships, understanding its effects can help the non-alexithymic partner be more compassionate, which leads to more success in fixing the problem. 
Alexithymic People Often Sabotage Their Relationships. Though the experts are still trying to figure out what causes Alexithymia, research shows that alexithymia is often linked to a fear of getting too close in a relationship. People with alexithymia might sabotage their relationships on purpose to avoid getting too dependent on another person. They might get angry quickly, keep to themselves, be scared of rejection or criticism, and struggle to control ugly verbal eruptions. 
Impact on Romantic Relationships. Without connection, there is no romantic relationship. You cannot have a marriage or partnership without talking about your feelings and expect to be happy. 

Can People with Alexithymia Feel Love?

YES. Despite challenges, your partner with alexithymia can experience love. However, they may struggle to identify or articulate their feelings, making it hard for their partners to grasp and feel validated by their love. 
Making Up for Emotional Difficulties. Your alexithymic spouse might try and make up for his difficulty in expressing emotions by providing for your needs in other ways. It is common for a person with alexithymia to express their love and caring by: 
  • becoming reliable providers, 
  • offering practical solutions to their spouse’s problem, or 
  • simply being a dependable presence.

Can A Relationship With an Alexithymic Work?

Clear Communication – The Most Important Method of Dealing with a Person with Alexithymia. Clear communication is everything. An 'alexi' might not catch onto the emotional signals that others pick up easily, so it is crucial for their partner to be super clear about their needs. For example, the 'alexi' might not notice if their partner looks annoyed or impatient. So, my advice is just saying straightforwardly, “I am annoyed” or “I’m irritated by this” helps a lot and avoids confusion.

Put Words to Feelings. Another helpful method when dealing with a person with alexithymia is to help them in putting words to their feelings. A great way to do this is to start with naming your own feelings, such as sadness, anger, or frustration.  

The Body Connection. People with alexithymia often struggle to understand what's happening in their bodies and how it affects their feelings. For example, an alexithymic person might be feeling grumpy because they are actually tired or hungry. As their partner, you could help by notifying what body-problem might be affecting their mood.

Sounds Like Taking Care of a Young Child. I know that all of my advice sounds like I am suggesting that you treat your partner like a child. I suppose that is correct. If you have never developed the capacity to identify and express your emotions, you really are a child. But, children grow up and so can a person with alexithymia. 

Source: Update of 9/13/2018 Blog  “A Look at Alexithymia (the “Unfeeling” Personality)”



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