If you tend to go into your shell following an argument with your partner, or have expectations from them, you may hurt your relationship, claims a new study.
The two are the most common types of disengagement in relationships, and both can be harmful, but in different ways and for different reasons, says researcher Keith Sanford, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University.
Sanford said withdrawal was the most problematic for relationships. It was a defensive tactic that people use when they feel they are being attacked, and there was a direct association between withdrawal and lower satisfaction overall with the relationship.
Meanwhile, "passive immobility"-expecting your partner to be a mind-reader-is a tactic people use when they feel anxious in a relationship, and it makes it especially difficult for couples to make progress toward resolving conflicts. But it may not be as harmful down the line as withdrawal, he said.
Withdrawal does not necessarily influence whether a couple can resolve a conflict, said Sanford, who has done several previous studies on couples' conflicts. But expecting or hoping the other person will be a mind reader has a direct influence on the couple's ability to settle the issue.
Withdrawing when a partner criticizes or complains is a way of avoiding a perceived threat and is "more characteristic of unhappiness. Just about everyone does that from time to time, but you see more of that in distressed relationships," Sanford said.
The research showed that individuals were more likely to report withdrawal if they were bored or apathetic. "There's a desire to maintain autonomy, control and distance," Sanford said.
Meanwhile, those who expected a partner to know what is wrong without being told are anxious, feeling neglected rather than threatened.
It was an issue both of being aware of when these behaviors were occurring and of finding an alternative-a more constructive, polite approach to resolve conflict, he said. And at times, that was easier said than done.
The study appears in Psychological Assessment, the journal of the American Psychological Association.