Do you feel like your partner doesn't connect with you emotionally? Does he seem unable to share or understand emotional issues that are important to you? Does he avoid talking about feelings? He may have a personality trait called alexithymia. And if he's got this trait and the two of you are married, chances are you're feeling lonely and that there's something missing in your marriage.

Research shows that individuals with alexithymia have difficulty relating to others and often grow uncomfortable when carrying on emotional conversations, says Nick Frye-Cox, a University of Missouri doctoral student who did research on alexithymia and its devastating effect on marriage.

The study, "Alexithymia and Marital Quality: The Mediating Roles of Loneliness and Intimate Communication," was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

For his research, Frye-Cox, a student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, gathered data from both spouses in 155 heterosexual couples. He learned that among the couples, 7.5 percent of men and 6.5 percent of women were alexithymic. Often, he found, alexithymia co-exists with other conditions on the autism spectrum and with post-traumatic stress disorders. Eating and panic disorders, depression, and substance abuse also have been linked to alexithymia.

Signs of Alexithymia

An individual with alexithymia typically stumbles over explaining the many variations in his emotions, explains Frye-Cox. Yet despite a marked inability to communicate and form a good relationship, alexithymic individuals still get married.

A person with alexithymia may feel frustrated and angry, and may have trouble describing why he feels this way, or distinguishing between emotions. He cannot connect with others and is likely to avoid emotional topics, focusing instead on conversations that are black and white, or factual-based topics that are not subjective.

Alexithymic individuals also tend to not help out with tasks around the house, they don't really engage with in-laws and other guests when they visit, and they tend to be very stoic.

Treatment for Alexithymia

Unfortunatetly, there's not textbook treatment for the disorder."It's still really new and research is ongoing into what might help," says Frye-Cox.

Sometimes, an individual with alexithymia can be helped with cognitive behavioral and reparative therapy, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction.

"If someone has alexithymia as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, and there was early childhood trauma, therapy can help," she says. "If it is due to Asberger's, it may be a lot more difficult to resolve, but pathways may be found to emotional sharing, if the unaffected spouse is willing to learn what to do."

It's not easy, says Tessina. "It means learning a new language of emotions based on the alexithymic partner's emotional vocabulary."

Many spouses simply don't understand how a partner who has this personality trait can't "see" what they are saying, says Lisa Rene Reynolds, PhD, an expert in marital and family therapy. "A couple with this issue cannot depend on traditional relationship-building skills, but rather, must design a 'new' way of communication that meets both of their needs," she says. "It can be arduous and tricky work and both partners need to be willing to do this."

Nick Frye-Cox reviewed this article.




McIntyre, Kate. "Emotional disconnection disorder threatens marriages, MU researcher says." 21 November 2012. University of Missouri News Bureau.

Nauert, Rick. "Alexithymia: Emotional Disconnect Challenges Marriages." 13 November 2012. PsychCentral. Com.