The demand-withdraw pattern of communication -- a cyclical pattern of interaction in which criticism and emotional or physical exit predominate -- is common amongst couples in distress and is linked to a number of deleterious health and relational outcomes. Inherent in the pattern are individual and dyadic difficulties regulating emotion that contribute to the process of polarization between demanding and withdrawing parties. While numerous therapeutic modalities target the pattern and attempt to facilitate its reduction through a focus on emotions underlying the pattern, few -- if any -- studies have examined the exact nature and quality of emotions that precipitate withdraw through qualitative means. This study utilized 12 participants (6 couples) culled from Christensen and colleagues' (Christensen et al., 2004) five-year randomized clinical trail comparing Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT) with Traditional Behavioral Couple Therapy (TBCT), in order to examine the emotional precipitants of withdraw. Results indicate that frustration is the most common emotion displayed by withdrawing partners of both genders prior to withdraw, followed by hurt, defensiveness, and scorn. Hurt was displayed more often when withdrawing partners voiced their relational concerns to their partners. The frequency and intensity of all emotions displayed increased when those who withdraw listened to relational concerns voiced by their partners. Implications for future research are discussed.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (PsyD) -- Psychology; Couples therapy -- Case studies; Behavior therapy -- Case studies

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Eldridge, Kathleen;