Cross-Cultural Consistency of the Demand/Withdraw Interaction Pattern in Couples

By Christensen, Andrew; Eldridge, Kathleen et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Cross-Cultural Consistency of the Demand/Withdraw Interaction Pattern in Couples


Christensen, Andrew, Eldridge, Kathleen, Catta-Preta, Adriana Bokel, Lim, Veronica R., Santagata, Rossella, Journal of Marriage and Family


In order to examine the cross-cultural consistency of several patterns of couple communication, 363 participants from four different countries (Brazil, Italy, Taiwan, and the United States) completed self-report measures about communication and satisfaction in their romantic relationships. Across countries, constructive communication was positively associated with relationship satisfaction, whereas demand/withdraw communication was negatively associated with relationship satisfaction. Woman demand/ man withdraw communication was significantly more likely than man demand/woman withdraw communication. Also, some evidence suggested women wanted greater closeness versus independence in their relationships than did men. Differences between partners in desire for closeness versus independence were associated with greater demand/withdraw communication. The possible bases for the demand/withdraw pattern of communication and its gender linkage are discussed.

Key Words: communication, couples, demand/withdraw interaction, relationship satisfaction.

In research conducted primarily in the United States, the quality of communication between partners in romantic relationships has been linked repeatedly to relationship satisfaction and stability (Weiss & Heyman, 1997). Broad characteristics of communication, such as the level of positivity and negativity, as well as particular patterns of interaction, are connected with relationship quality in this research. Are these findings specific to the United States? Are they limited to relationships in relatively wealthy, industrialized countries? Or are the findings more universal? Sue (1999) suggests that although internal validity is important, the development of research requires that equal importance be placed on external validity. Research that seeks to determine the generalizability of phenomena is necessary to prevent assumptions of universality, and theories or principles should be considered local until they are cross-validated (Sue). Therefore, the current study examines data from four different countries to assess the cross-cultural generalizability of findings about communication in relationships. These four countries, Taiwan, Brazil, Italy, and the United States, were chosen because they represent different cultural attitudes, religions, and gendered expectations that are likely to affect communication in relationships.

In research conducted in the United States, relationship satisfaction and stability are closely tied to the quality of partner communication in marriage and dating relationships. This link has been found repeatedly in both cross-sectional and longitudinal research (see Karney & Bradbury, 1995, and Weiss & Heyman, 1997, for reviews). As might be expected, positive communication is associated with satisfaction and stability and negative communication with dissatisfaction and instability (but see Gottman, 1994, for exceptions). Recently, a randomly sampled, nationwide telephone survey of U.S. adults in married, engaged, and cohabiting relationships found that negative interaction was negatively associated with relationship quality and positively associated with divorce potential (Stanley, Markman, & Whitton, 2002). A cross-cultural investigation that rated the observed interactions of 36 German couples and 40 Australian couples found that, across these Western, industrialized countries, distressed couples engaged in higher rates of negative interactions than nondistressed couples (Halford, Hahlweg, & Dunne, 1990).

Apart from these general findings, research has suggested that specific patterns of communication are linked to relationship quality. Studies have shown that the demand/withdraw pattern of communication is associated with lower marital quality and divorce (e.g., Christensen & Shenk, 1991 ). In this conflictual pattern, one partner tries to discuss a relationship problem and is often critical and demanding, whereas the other tries to avoid discussion and is often defensive and withdrawn during discussion. …

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