In its own unhappy-making way, this pattern of interaction is as classic as a Little Black Dress, and it has a moniker and an acronym: Demand/Withdraw or DM/W. It isn’t a new pattern, of course—the so-called “nagging” wife shows up in folklore all over the world, in many varied forms, but research shows that DM/W is a powerful predictor of marital dissatisfaction and divorce. It’s also associated with depression, physical abuse, and the mental health symptoms of young adult children, according to a meta-analysis review conducted by Paul Schrodt and his co-authors. Of all the troubling relational patterns, Demand/Withdraw is truly worthy of HazMat status.
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As to conflict, if one person wants change and the other is perfectly happy with the status quo whether that’s the division of labor in the household, the level of intimacy and sharing, the frequency of sex or anything else the person seeking change will make the demands. Needless to say, the more the partner is invested in either holding onto the power he or she has or keeping things the way they are, the more he or she will withdraw from the discussion.
Personality differences, in addition to individual needs and goals, clearly play a factor too. Securely attached people who are emotionally confident, accustomed to being both loved and valued, and who believe in their own worthiness tend not to engage in the pattern. Alas, that is not true of the avoidantly attached individuals who, by virtue of their childhood and life experiences, are uncomfortable with intimacy and are disinclined to pursue it especially if they are men. A study by Robin A. Barry and Erika Lawrence found that avoidantly attached husbands withdrew in direct proportion to the amount of negative affect expressed by wives in demand situations. This was true both in conflict situations and in those that required the husband to support and