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Is Normative Male Alexithymia associated with Relationship Satisfaction, Fear of Intimacy and Communication Quality among men in relationships?

Alexithymia is a clinical condition that literally means "without words for emotions." This condition is more common among men than women. A meta-analysis of gender differences in alexithymia based on 41 existing samples found consistently small differences in mean alexithymia between women and men, with men exhibiting higher levels (Hedges' d = .22; Levant, Hall, Williams, & Hasan, 2009). These gender differences are thought to be due to Normative Male Alexithymia (NMA), a gender-linked, mild-to-moderate form of alexithymia. NMA is the inability of some men to put emotions into words that is posited to result from traditional masculine gender role socialization, a key element of which is the restriction of emotional expression. Due to such socialization, these men do not develop a vocabulary for many of their emotions, especially the vulnerable emotions, such as fear and sadness, that might make them appear "weak," and the attachment emotions, such as affection and fondness, that might make them appear "needy." NMA is also associated with men's endorsement of traditional masculinity ideology (Levant et al., 2006).

Although there is a large body of research on alexithymia, there is not much literature on the effect that it might have on romantic relationships. Our lives are affected by the quality of our relationships, particularly our intimate relationships. Establishing and maintaining these relationships requires an ability to recognize and empathize with the emotions of our partner as well as the ability to share with them our own emotions (Humphreys, Wood, & Parker, 2009). It is thus likely that the inability to identify and verbally express emotions reflected in alexithymia in general and NMA in particular might affect intimate relationships. The extant research in this area has found a moderate negative correlation between alexithymia and both relationship and sexual satisfaction (Humphreys, Wood, & Parker). Further, Talka (2008) investigated the relationships between alexithymia, fear of intimacy, masculinity ideology, and dismissing attachment style, and found that alexithymia was a unique predictor of men's fear of intimacy. Talka also found that relationship satisfaction was a unique predictor of fear of intimacy.

Further research on the impact of alexithymia and NMA on relationships is quite important, as relationship quality has been show to affect men's physical and psychological well-being (Barnett, Davidson, & Marshall, 1991; Barnett, Marshall, & Pleck, 1991).

The purpose of the current study is to examine the relationships between Normative Male Alexithymia and three relationship variables: Relationship Satisfaction, Communication Quality, and Fear of Intimacy. This combination of variables has not previously been studied. The first hypothesis is that scores on the Normative Male Alexithymia Scale (NMAS) will positively correlate with scores on the Fear of Intimacy Scale. The second hypothesis is that scores on the NMAS will correlate negatively with scores on the measure of communication quality (the Dyadic Adjustment Scale [DAS] subscale, Affectional Expression). The third and final hypothesis is that scores on the NMAS will correlate negatively with scores on the measure of relationship satisfaction (the DAS subscale, Dyadic Satisfaction).

METHOD

Participants

Participants, 175 adult men in romantic relationships, were recruited from multiple sources, including a large research university in the Midwest and internet message boards that appealed to men of traditional male occupations. Participants were asked to indicate which group of ages they fit within (18-25, 26-35, 36-45, 46-55, and 56+). Overall, ages spanned the full range from the 18-25 to the 56+ groups, the median was in the 26-35 age group, and the mode was in the 18-25 age group. All participants were involved in a relationship that included dating and living separately (43.4%), dating and living together (12.6%), engaged (5.1%), and married (38.9%). Participants were asked which group of relationship lengths they fit within (less than one year, 1-2 years, 3-5 years, 6-10 years, 11-20 years, 21-30 years, and 30+ years). Overall relationship lengths spanned the full range from the less than 1 year to the 30 + years groups, the median was the 6-10 years and the mode was the less than one year groups. The vast majority of participants listed their ethnicity as Caucasian (91.4%); however some participants reported their ethnicity as African American (3.4%), Asian (2.9%), Hispanic (.6%), and Other (1.1%). With regard to children, 38.9 percent reported having children while 60.6 percent reported having no children and 1 declined to answer. Participants were given one of two options for compensation in exchange for their participation in this survey: University students could receive extra credit for certain courses; other participants were given the opportunity to be entered into a raffle for a $100 gift card to Best Buy.

Procedures

Participants completed a 96-item survey that included a Demographic Form, the Normative Male Alexithymia Scale, the Fear of Intimacy Scale, and the Dyadic Adjustment Scale. The study was completed using an online survey utility at the participant's convenience. Analyses were completed using PASW Statistics 18. All aspects of the study complied with campus IRB procedures that include an informed consent and a debriefing.

Measures

Demographic form. This form, developed for the present study, assessed: gender, age, relationship status, relationship length, ethnicity, and whether or not the participant had children.

Normative Male Alexithymia Scale (NMAS). The NMAS (Levant et al., 2006) consists of 20 items to which participants respond using a Likert-based format (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree). Sample items include, "I have difficulty expressing my innermost feelings" and "I don't like to talk with others about my feelings." Exploratory and confirmatory factor indicated that the NMAS consisted of a single 20item factor. Scores on the NMAS displayed very good internal consistency ([alpha] = .92 for men), and test-retest reliability (r =.91 for men) over a 1 - 2 month period. Results of analyses of gender differences, relations of the NMAS with other instruments, and its incremental validity in predicting traditional masculinity ideology (using the Male Role Norms Inventory) provide evidence supporting the validity of the scale. After recoding reverse-worded items, a total NMAS score is obtained through the averaging of scores on all 20 items. Higher scores indicate greater Normative Male Alexithymia. The coefficient alpha for the present study was .85.

Fear of Intimacy Scale (FIS). The FIS (Descutner & Thelen, 1991) consists of Part A, which assesses current relationships, and Part B, which assesses past relationships. Participants respond to both parts using a Likert-type format (1 = not at all characteristic of me to 5 = extremely characteristic of me). Part A consists of 30 items. Instructions to participants were: "In each statement, "0" refers to the person you are currently in a relationship with." Sample items include, "I would feel comfortable telling my experiences, even sad ones, to 0" and "I would not be nervous about being spontaneous with 0." Part B consists of 5 items. The instructions asked participants to respond to the items with regard to past relationships. Sample items from part B include, [degrees]'I have shied away from opportunities to be close to someone" and "I have held back my feelings in previous relationships." A total FIS score is obtained through the averaging of scores on all 35 items. Higher scores indicate a greater fear of intimacy. This scale was found to have excellent internal consistency demonstrated by an alpha coefficient of .93. Factor analysis also showed that there was the presence of one primary factor that accounted for 32.5 percent of the variance (Descutner & Thelen, 1991). The coefficient alpha for the present study was .93.

Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS). The DAS (Spanier, 1976) assesses the quality of marital and non-marital couple adjustment. The scale consists of 32 items in 7 sections, each with a different response format. Five of the sections ask participants to respond using different Likert-type formats (5 = always agree to 0 = always disagree; 0 = all the time to 5 = never; 4 = every day to 0 = never; 4 = all of them to 0 = none of them; and 0 = never to 5 = more often). The sixth section asks participants to answer using yes (coded as 0) or no (coded as 1). And the seventh section consists of one item that asks participants to select one of six statements (coded 0, 1,2, 3, 4, or 5) that best described how they felt about the future of their relationship. Factor analysis of the DAS found four factors: Dyadic Consensus, Dyadic Cohesion, Dyadic Satisfaction, and Affectional Expression. Evidence of reliability and construct validity was reported by Spanier. After recoding reverse-worded items and translating categorical items into their assigned codes, we scored them according to Spanier's protocol to derive subscale and total score scores. Higher scores on subscales and the total scale indicate greater adjustment to the relationship.

RESULTS

Two hundred and forty six participants initially took part in the study. However, 71 participants were eliminated either because they were not eligible (being female or single), they stopped answering questions halfway through the survey, or they provided patterned responses (e.g., they checked all l's or all 5's). Thus the final sample was 175, for a completion rate of 71.1 percent. There were missing values as some participants declined to answer questions at random throughout the survey, which were treated using ipsative mean substitution, which calculates the mean of individual participant's answers on scale items and substitutes missing values using this mean. Descriptive statistics and correlations for study variables are displayed in Table 1.

Hypothesis Testing

The first hypothesis, that scores on the NMAS would correlate positively with scores on the FIS, was supported (r = .70, p < .01). The second hypothesis, that higher scores on the NMAS would correlate negatively with scores on the measure of communication quality (DAS subscale, Affectional Expression), was supported (r = -.63, p < .01). The third hypothesis, that scores on the NMAS would correlate negatively with scores on relationship satisfaction (DAS subscale, Dyadic Satisfaction), was supported (r = .39,p < .01)

Other Findings

Age was found to significantly correlate with relationship status (r = .65, p < .01), relationship length (r = .75, p < .01), the presence of children (r = -.72, p < .01), and the DAS subscale, Affectional Expression, (r = .16,p < .05). Relationship status was found to significantly correlate with relationship length (r = .77, p < .01), the presence of children (r = -.68, p < .01), and the DAS subscale, Affectional Expression, (r = -.20, p < .01). Relationship length was found to significantly correlate with the presence of children (r = -.68, p < .01), and the DAS subscale, Affectional Expression, (r = -.23, p < .01). The presence of children was found to correlate significantly with the DAS subscale, Affectional Expression, (r = .20, p < .01).

DISCUSSION

Hypotheses

The present study investigated the relationships of NMA with different aspects of relationship quality. Testing of the first hypothesis found that scores on the NMAS correlated positively with scores on the FIS, suggesting that men with higher degrees of NMA will more greatly fear intimacy with their romantic partners. This could indicate that men suffering from NMA, who lack the ability to identify and express their own emotions, may also have difficulty relating to their partner's intimate emotions and therefore come to fear them.

Testing the second hypothesis found that scores on the NMAS correlated negatively with scores on the measure of communication quality (DAS subscale, Affectional Expression). This implies that men with higher degrees of NMA are less likely to communicate effectively with their romantic partner. This could indicate that men suffering from NMA may not have the necessary emotional vocabulary to have quality communication with their partner.

Finally, testing the third hypothesis found that scores on the NMAS correlated negatively with scores on the measure of relationship satisfaction (the DAS subscale, Dyadic Satisfaction). These results suggest that men suffering from NMA are less likely to be satisfied in their current, intimate relationship. This could indicate that such men, who have a diminished ability to identify and express the wide range of emotions that occur in an intimate relationship, gain less satisfaction from relationships.

Other Findings

Age, relationship status, relationship length, and Affectional Expression. Age, relationship status, and relationship length were all found to be negatively correlated with the DAS subscale, Affectional Expression (the measure of communication quality). This suggests that the older an individual, and the more committed and longer the relationship is, the lower the quality of communication between the man and his intimate partner. This suggests that the longer and more committed the relationship, the lower the quality of communication. Perhaps when individuals are older and have been in relationships for long periods of time, they find it less necessary to communicate in order to make the relationship "work." However, the present data do not allow us to further evaluate this finding, which must therefore be left to future research.

Presence of children and Affectional Expression. The present study also found that the presence of children in a relationship correlated positively with the DAS subscale, Affectional Expression. This suggests that those couples with children are more likely to have a better quality of communication with their partner. However, this finding could be due to the specific characteristics of sample, and needs to be investigated further in future research.

LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH

One major limitation of the study is that only correlational analyses were conducted. Therefore, nothing can be determined about the cause and effect relationships of the variables studied. This limitation can be surmounted in future research that uses an experimental design.

Another limitation is that although participants were drawn from many sources, the majority came from a single university and were predominantly young, European American, and middle class. Future research should attempt to replicate our findings with a sample that is more diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, and social class. Finally, the self-report nature of the surveys introduces the possibility of bias due to socially desirable responding. A future study employing a multi-method design (including the interviewing method) would strengthen evidence for these relationships. This study initiates research on the effects that NMA may have on romantic relationships. Future research might envision an experimental design to investigate the causal relationships between NMA and relationship quality, seek a broader and more diverse sample, and use a multi-method design. Future research might also investigate the satisfaction of the partners of men suffering from NMA.

Clinical Implications

Couple and marital therapists might make use of these findings by assessing whether the male partners in distressed couples suffer from NMA, by simply administering the 20-item NMAS. If so, there are examples in the literature of Alexithymia Reduction Treatment (Levant, Halter, Hayden, & Williams, 2009) in the context of couples therapy (Levant, 2003; Levant, & Silverstein, 2001).

REFERENCES

Barnett, R.C., Davidson, H., & Marshall, N. (1991). Physical symptoms and the interplay of work and family roles. Health Psychology, 10, 94-101.

Barnett, R.C., Marshall, N., & Pleck, J. (1991). Men's multiple roles and their relationship to men's psychological distress. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54,348-367.

Descutner, C.J., & Thelen, M.H. (1991). Development and validation of a fear-of-intimacy scale. A Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 3(2), 218-225.

Humphreys, T.P., Wood, L.M., & Parker, J.D.A. (2009). Alexithymia and satisfaction in intimate relationships. Personality and Individual Differences, 46(1), 43-47.

Levant, R.F. (2003). Treating male alexithymia. In L.B. Silverstein & TJ. Goodrich (Eds), Feminist family therapy: Empowerment in social context (pp. 177-188). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Levant, R.F., Good, G.E., Cook, S.W., O'Neil, J.M., Smalley, K.B., Owen, K., et al. (2006). The normative male alexithymia scale: Measurement of a gender-linked syndrome. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 7(4), 212-224.

Levant, R.F., Hall, R.J., Williams, C.M., & Hasan, N.T. (2009). Gender differences in alexithymia. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 10(3), 190-203.

Levant, R.F., Halter, M.J., Hayden, E., & Williams, C. (2009). The efficacy of Alexithymia Reduction Treatment: A pilot study, Journal of Men's Studies, 17, 75-84.

Levant, R., & Silverstein, L. (2001). Integrating gender and family systems theories: The "both/and" approach to treating a postmodern couple. In D. Lusterman, S. McDaniel, & C. Philpot (Eds.), Casebook for integrating family therapy (pp. 245-252). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Spanier, G.B. (1976). Measuring dyadic adjustment: New scales for assessing the quality of marriage and similar dyads. Journal of Marriage and Family, 38(1), 15-28.

Talka, K.M. (2008). Alone on the range: Does dismissing attachment style, masculine ideology, and alexithymia predict men's fears of intimacy in romantic relationships?. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 68(7-B), 48-49.

EMILY N. KARAKIS * and RONALD F. LEVANT *

* The University of Akron.

This article reports on research conducted as a Senior Honors Thesis at The University of Akron by the first author, under the supervision of the second author.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Emily Karakis, 2393 Burnham Rd., Fairlawn, Ohio 44333. Email: enk5@zips.uakron.edu.

DOI: 10.3149/jms.2003.179
Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations and Alphas of All Study Variables

Scale             1         2         3         4         5

1. Age
2. Status       .65 **
3. Length       .75 **    .77 **
4. Ethnicity    .11       .10       .13
5. Children    -.72 **   -.68 **   -.68 **   -.02
6. WAS         -.06       .00       .00       .07       .07
7. FIS          .03      -.09      -.11      -.13       .00
8. DC           .04       .12       .09       .02       .00
9. AE          -.16 *    -.20 **   -.23 **    .09       .20 **
10. DCo         .01       .06       .11       .16 *     .06
11. DS         -.05      -.02       .00       .21 **    .10
12. DAS        -.01       .05       .05       .12       .07

Scale             6         7        8        9        10       11

1. Age
2. Status
3. Length
4. Ethnicity
5. Children
6. WAS
7. FIS          .70 **
8. DC          -.38 **   -.61 **
9. AE          -.36 **   -.48 **   .54 **
10. DCo        -.36 **   -.67 **   .70 **   .49 **
11. DS         -.39 **   -.52 **   .53 **   .34 **   .66 **
12. DAS        -.44 **   -.70 **   .91 **   .64 **   .90 **   .74 **

Scale          12    M      SD    [alpha]

1. Age                     2.11    1.39
2. Status                  2.39    1.38
3. Length                  3.18    1.86
4. Ethnicity               2.91     .51
5. Children                1.60     .49
6. WAS              3.67   1.09     .85
7. FIS              2.31    .64     .93
8. DC               3.46    .60     .94
9. AE               3.64    .67     .88
10. DCo             3.27    .79     .79
11. DS              3.84    .72     .88
12. DAS             2.18    .64     .70

Note. LAMAS, Normative Male Alexithymia Scale; FIS, Fear of Intimacy
Scale; DC, Dyadic Consensus; AE; Affectional Expression; DCo, Dyadic
Cohesion; DS, Dyadic Satisfaction; DAS, Dyadic Adjustment Scale.

* p < .05; ** p < .01.
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Author:Karakis, Emily N.; Levant, Ronald F.
Publication:The Journal of Men's Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2012
Words:3038
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