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Self-Silencing in Romantic Relationships: Is it Related to Worse Relationship Conflict Outcomes


Self-silencing (i.e., withholding one’s true thoughts and feelings) is a behavior that romantic partners engage in to minimize conflict in their relationships, yet previous research has not directly examined its prevalence nor its effectiveness. Across four studies using multiple methods (total N = 1,601), we found evidence that self-silencing is a common relationship behavior, and one that may be associated with more and worse conflict. Specifically, we established that contrary to widespread lay beliefs in self-silencing’s adaptiveness, it is associated with more frequent and more negatively-valenced conflict as well as lower conflict resolution. Furthermore, our findings suggest that lower subjective feelings of relational authenticity may help explain the counterintuitive association between self-silencing and worse conflict outcomes, but also that self-silencing and conflict may be bidirectionally linked. In our final, pre-registered study, we used a longitudinal dyadic approach to investigate couples during the COVID-19 pandemic and found that both actor’s and partner’s self-silencing were positively associated with conflict in the moment and that partner’s self-silencing predicted greater conflict over time. Throughout our studies, we examined the effects of self-silencing alongside related constructs and processes (e.g., self-disclosure, emotional suppression) and found that self-silencing is uniquely associated with conflict. Taken together, these results suggest that when individuals withhold their thoughts and feelings from a romantic partner to avoid arguing in the moment, or when their partners do so, this may be associated with lower relational authenticity and worse conflict outcomes.

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