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Avoidance Communication in Romantic Relationships Britny Livingston Danielle De La Mare University of Michigan-Flint


While sitting on the couch with your significant other watching television and avoiding each other Wife: I wonder what is wrong with him?, Why is he avoiding me?, Did I do something wrong?, Is he cheating on me?, Who is she?, Is she prettier than me?Husband: Tractor is broken todayI wonder how I can fix it? Above is a prime example of avoidance. Avoidance is a method of dealing with conflict. Unfortunately a lot of women look into certain issues way too much and then we tend to get a bunch of thoughts in our head. According the dialog to their selves above, this probably isnt a good thing, whatsoever. This study investigates why men and woman avoid one another in romantic relationships. There are a couple factors as to why men and woman avoid each other. It could be poor communication between the two of them or it could be uncertainty within the relationship of the individual in general. When an individual feels uncertain about their participation and involvement in the relationship, they start to question their significant others participation and involvement. This could ultimately lead to avoidance, a method of dealing with a conflict, but


its even worse because you do not even deal with it you just dont talk about it and then it seems to only escalate from there. Avoidance is common in many relationships. I would like to focus specifically on participants in heterosexual relationships who are ages 20 to 35 and have been in the relationship for two or more years. My participants will be recruited from University of Michigan-Flint Communication students who know the participants, and in return the students will receive extra credit from their communications instructor. I would like to research this because there is hardly any research on the effects that poor communication has on a romantic relationship. This is important to me because I want to know why people avoid one another, if avoidance is the reason for poor communication or vise versa, and if men tend to avoid women more or if it is reversed. Individuals are more satisfied within their relationships if they are satisfied with themselves first. Studies show that if you are happy with yourself you are more likely to be happy with someone else (Knobloch & Carpenter-Theune, 2004). Personal experience would suggest that avoidance is in some cases is caused by communication problems within a romantic relationship. This means that some people who have communication problems in their relationship might experience more avoidance from each other than those who rarely have communication problems.

Avoidance Conflict Tactics and Perceived Resolvability

Avoidance conflict tactics include shift of argument topic, focus on abstract terms, denial of disagreement, and attempts to bypass confrontation (Canary, Cunningham, & Cody, 1988;

AVOIDANCE AS A RESULT OF POOR COMMUNICATION IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS Bevan, Finan & Kaminsky, 2008). Avoidance is negative, nothing should be avoided because it only causes problems in the romantic relationship. This is not yet defined, in my research plan I have set up a questionnaire that will help me decide if the statement is true. Communication is

the main reason for avoidance, if the communication is good the avoidance may be non-existent, if the communication is poor there will be avoidance. Perceived resolvability involves the beliefs about the likelihood of mutual agreement and conclusion of the argument rather than whether or not the individuals are actually proceeding in the direction of avoidance (Bevan, Finan & Kaminsky, 2008). This means that each individual in the romantic relationship (in the case of my research) should believe that there is no way for them to stay away from avoidance, unless they do something about their communication styles. Perceived resolvability emerged as an important outcome of different forms of communication (Johnson, 1998; Johnson & Roloff, 1998, 2000a, 2000b), avoidance (Johnson, 1998; Bevan, Finan & Kaminsky, 2008). RQ 1: At what point in a romantic relationship do couples start avoiding one another because of arguments caused by poor communication?

Relational Uncertainty

Relational uncertainty is the degree of confidence people have in their perceptions of involvement within interpersonal relationships (Berger& Bradac, 1982; Knobloch & Solomon, 1999, 2002a). Relational uncertainty refers to how people manage, negotiate and experience close relationships. This could be a resolute of the poor communication between individuals in a romantic relationship. If someone in the relationship is uncertain of the involvement or participation in the relationship then there will be more of a chance that, that person is not

AVOIDANCE AS A RESULT OF POOR COMMUNICATION IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS satisfied in the relationship. Therefore leading to poor communication skills and then to avoidance. What I would like to find out in my data collecting is what in the relationship is

making this person uncertain about the specifics of the relationship. This ultimately goes back to the fact that if individuals are happy with themselves they will be happy with others (Knobloch & Carpenter-Theune, 2004). This can lead to self uncertainty; self uncertainty is the questions people have about their own involvement in the relationship. A person who is not satisfied with their own involvement or participation will question their partners participation and will not think that is good enough either (Knobloch & Carpenter-Theune, 2004). RQ2: What is each individual uncertain about in the relationship to make them have poor communication ultimately resulting in avoidance? The main gap in the research that I have found is that many of them do not mention gender. The only one I found was no really related to my topic at all (Swann, Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003). In part of my research I want to try to find out if men seem to avoid women more than women avoid men. This is not just on personal topics but on everything from past relationships to things that they are feeling. In most of the research I have read in scholarly journals, there some more gaps that my research will fill. First in some of the journals they are the same, they have focused more on the older generation, older meaning above my research age range. In others they have used a longer time frame of the couples being together (Simon & Baxter, 1993). Lastly in almost all of the scholarly journals they have used quantitative research. In my study I will be focusing on individuals in a romantic relationship ages 20 to 25 that have been in the relationship from two to ten years. I want to use qualitative research, not only because it is different than the others but because I care more about numbers. I want to know

AVOIDANCE AS A RESULT OF POOR COMMUNICATION IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS how people are feeling about avoidance instead of applying it to a scale and giving me a numbered result. The research for this study is very simple, it is relatable for most people in a relationship so it is really easy to understand. I plan on using a qualitative approach. I realized this when I started to bring psychology into my research and studies. I am more interested in how certain situations make people feel instead of using a quantitative approach where you use science to gather your data. Sampling Participants in my study will be recruited using network sampling. Students from introductory communication courses such as Introduction to Communication will receive extra

credit for distributing a packet of different tasks to heterosexual couples who have been together in either a marital or non-marital romantic relationship for three or more years of whom they know. I will be using heterosexual couples because I think that it will narrow my research down more to just men and woman and not homosexual couples. This type of sampling is crucial to my study because it is a win win, the students get extra credit and I get participants. This may also be convenience sampling because it is convenient for me to find students and have professors who I have had in the past from the university give them extra for helping me distribute the packets. 400 packets will be distributed to both members of 200 couples. The reason for using 400 packets is because I want to make sure that I will get back enough information to conduct my research. Each participant will be provided with a packet of written instructions, a copy of the questionnaire and a postage-paid return envelope. Envelopes will be prerecorded with an identification number to determine couple membership from the returned envelopes. The participants of my study will be informed on the importance of complete the questionnaire

AVOIDANCE AS A RESULT OF POOR COMMUNICATION IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS independently from their partner and returning it separately in the provided envelope. The

students, who distributed the packets, will be asked to provide the names and telephone numbers of the participants who they chose. The students will be under the impression that the participants they chose to give packets to will receive a follow up telephone call. Verification will be conducted by calling 50% random sample of all of the participants who returned the packets and met the criteria. When participants are called I will ask if they completed the questionnaire and if they did so independently from their partner. Those who did not fill out the questionnaire separately from their partners will not be included in my data (Simon & Baxter, 1993). Method The questionnaire will consist of several parts that will take participants about 20 minutes to complete. Part one will be gathering background information on the participants. This will be personal information including name, birthday, how long they have been in their relationship and what kind of relationship it is (i.e. romantic, platonic, friends with benefits). Part two will be an open-ended questionnaire that will ask the participants to determine and describe their current level of satisfaction of their relationship. Part three will be an open-ended questionnaire on the characteristics of the relationship, this will include questions of the good and bad situations in a relationship. These surveys will help me to decide the kinds of troubles in the couples relationship based on the different answers I receive on the questionnaires from the different partners, since they were supposed to take them separately. This will ultimately lead me to the reasons why there would be avoidance in certain relationships.

AVOIDANCE AS A RESULT OF POOR COMMUNICATION IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS Bartholomew, K. (1990). Avoidance of Intimacy: An attachment perspective. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 14-178.

Baxter, L. A., & Simon, E.P., (1993). Journal of Social and Personal Relationships: Relationship Maintenance Strategies and Dialectical Contradictions in Personal Relationships, 225242. Berger, C. R., & Bradac, J.J. (1982). Language and social knowledge: Uncertainty in interpersonal relationships. London: Edward Arnold. Bevan, J. L., Finan, A., & Kaminsky, A. (2008). Human Communication Research: Modeling Serial Arguments in Close Relationships: The Serial Argument Process Model, 600-624. Bevan, J. L., Tidgewell, K. D., Bardull, K. C., Cusanelli, L., Hartsern, M., Holbeck, D., et al. (2007). Serial argumentation goals and their relationships with perceived resolvability and choice of conflict tactics. Communication Quarterly, 55, 61-77. Brunell, A. B., Kernis, M. H., Goldman, B. M., Heppner, W., Davis, P., Cascio, E.V., & Webster, G. D. (2009). Personality and Individual Differences: Dispositional Authenticity and Romantic Relationship Functioning, 900-905. Caughlin, J. P., & Vangelisti, A. L. (2000). Journal of Social and Personal Relationships: An Individual Difference Explanation of Why Married Couples Engaged in the Demand/Withdraw Pattern of Conflict, 523-551. Collins, N., & Read, S. (1990). Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 644-663. Hall, J. A. (2010). Journal of Social and Personal Relationships: Is it something I said? Sense of humor and partner embarrassment, 384-405. Johnson, K. L., (1998). Serial arguments and relationship quality: An investigation of the antecedents and effects of resolution pessimism in premarital romantic dyads. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University. Johnson, K. L., & Roloff, M. E. (1998). Serial arguing and relational quality: Determinants and consequences of perceived resolvability. Communication Research, 25, 327-343. Johnson, K. L., & Roloff, M. E. (2000a). Correlates of the perceived resolvability and relational consequences of serial arguing in dating relationships: Argumentative features and the uses of coping strategies. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 676-686. Johnson, K. L., & Roloff, M. E. (2000b). The influence of argumentative role (initiator vs. insister) on perceptions of serial argument resolvability and relational harm. Argumentation, 14, 1-15.


Knoblock, L. K., & Carpenter-Theune, K. E. (2004). Communication Research: Topic Avoidance in Developing Relationships: Associations with Intimacy and Relational Uncertainty, 173-205. Knoblock, L. K., & Solomon, D.H. (2000a). Information seeking beyond initial interaction: Negotiating relational uncertainty within close relationships. Human Communication Research, 28, 243-257. Simon, E. P., & Baxter, L.A. (1993). Western Journal of Communication: Attachment-Style Differences in Relationship Maintenance Strategies, 416-430. Swann Jr., W. B., Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2003). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: The Precarious Couple Effect: Verbally Inhibited Men + Critical, Disinhibited Women = Bad Chemistry, 1095-1106.



I am a communications student at the University of Michigan-flint conducting a few surveys on avoidance as a result of poor communication in romantic relationships. You are voluntary recruited from a student from the University of Michigan-Flint in an Introduction to Communication class. Participation from you is requested so I may learn more about reasons and causes for avoidance in romantic relationships. These questionnaires will take approximately 510 minutes each. I will ask for your name but it will be for my use only. Other personal questions will be asked as well. Again, your participation is voluntary and you may choose to not answer all of the questions on the questionnaire even after signing the consent. If you are willing to participate, please sign this form. If you have any questions pertaining to this study, please contact Britny Livingston, Department of Communications, University of Michigan-Flint, 517-242-6744. Thank you for your assistance. Participant Signature _______________________________________

Date __________________



You and your significant other have received this packet, it is very important that you take these surveys independently, not with your significant other. Also, inside you will see an envelope with a paid postage stamp and address for you to send the survey back to. Please when you are finished with the general information and BOTH surveys send them back in with the envelope that I have provided for you. Thank you. Britny Livingston



*Birth date (xx/xx/xxxx): _____________ Phone number (xxx-xxx-xxxx): _______________ *How long have you been in your current relationship?

*What kind of relationship is it? (i.e. romantic, platonic, friends with benefits)



This survey will be open-ended; this means that you can write as much as you want instead of it being multiple choice. 1. Name _________________________ 2. How long have you been in your current relationship?

3. What kind of relationship are you in right now? (i.e. romantic, platonic, friends with benefits)

4. What are some variables that you are either satisfied or dissatisfied with in your relationship with your partner?

5. How well do you and your partner communicates?

6. What are some things that you try to avoid when in a relationship? (could be topics, past events, sex)

7. If you were to get in an argument with your partner, what would the argument be about?

8. How do you and your partner resolve your arguments? Please state the steps you take to cope with the argument.



This survey will be open-ended, this means that you can write as much as you want instead of it being multiple choice. Please remember that no one (including your significant other) will see this survey except me. 1. Name: _______________________

2. Are you in any way shape or form uncertain about your participation in your current relationship? Please explain why or why not.

3. Are you uncertain about your significant others participation in your current relationship? Please explain why or why not.

4. If you are uncertain about your participation and involvement in your current relationship, do you think it affects the way you think about your significant others participation and involvement? Please explain.

5. Do you believe that lack of participation in a relationship will ultimately lead to avoidance? Please explain.

6. Have you ever found that if you avoid a certain topic within your relationship, it gets worse? Please explain.