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Guideline for family problems / COMMUNICATING: 2.2 Mutually constructive communication

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

During the orientation process of the available literature, we were able to identify the following interventions:
∙ Mutual constructive communication
∙ Demand/withdraw communication
∙ Mutual avoidance communication

Mutual constructive communication is interactive, involves constructive problem-solving and focuses on avoiding conflict (Handbook, p. 203). Both parties try to engage in a mutual adaptive discussion (Diamond, p. 202). Demand/ withdraw communication involves a pattern where one partner pursues more closeness and contact, while the other partner desires more distance and responds by withdrawing and avoiding (Handbook, p. 203). Mutual avoidance is typified by both partners avoiding communicating as much as possible (Handbook, p. 203). For the purpose of this topic, ‘mutual constructive communication’ will be compared with both ‘mutual avoidance’ and ‘demand/withdraw communication’ simultaneously.

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For the parents and children, is mutual constructive communication between parents more effective than mutual avoidance for their well-being?

Search strategy

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR and Taylor & Francis. For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: communication, spouses, patterns, rules, timing, divorce, children, relationship, parent.

Assessment and grading of evidence

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

Quality of evidence and research gap

The Handbook of Family Communication presents an analysis of cutting-edge research and theory on family interaction. It integrates perspectives of researchers and practitioners. Chapter 9 is mostly based on large-scale observational studies, and a few meta-analyses that help to understand what happens when families separate. Chapter 13 and 19 mostly rely on observational studies. Evidence can be regarded as being low to moderate.

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

Communication between parents becomes more difficult and energy consuming after separation. Unexpected and overwhelming demands after separation results in less communication by the parents. Parents will need to communicate more often and effectively, so that the parenting styles of both parents are consistent (Handbook, p. 204). Research shows that mutual constructive communication is generally designated as the healthiest, most functional interactive pattern. Separated parents must be willing to interact, communicate and cooperate with each other regarding child-related issues, despite any feelings of rejection, remorse, bitterness, or anger. This is because parental responsibilities after separation continue to exist, and communication is essential to transform and adapt to accommodate to parents’ new roles (Handbook, p. 204). The ability of separated parents to co-parent together, communicate about their children, to cooperate to set limits, to problem solve effectively and to provide consistent positive affective messages has a major influence on the ability of children to adjust after separation (Handbook, p. 205).

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

Mutual avoidance communication prevents the airing of thoughts and feelings surrounding relationship problems and impedes movement towards resolution (Diamond, p. 199). Both avoidance and demand/withdrawal communication are correlated with lower relationship satisfaction (Bodenmann, p. 354).

Balance of Outcomes

In determining whether mutual constructive communication between parents is more effective than mutual avoidance, for their well-being, the desirable and undesirable outcomes of both interventions must be considered. The literature suggests that mutual constructive communication between parents is in the interest of the child. On the other hand, mutual avoidance and demand/withdrawal communication are correlated with lower relationship satisfaction and a lack of ability to move towards a resolution. The balance is clearly towards the desired outcomes of mutual constructive communication.


Taking into account the balance towards the desired outcomes, the effect on children’s well-being and the strength of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For the parents and children, mutual constructive communication between parents is effective than mutual avoidance, for their well-being.

Table of Contents

2. Recommendations on COMMUNICATING
2.2 Mutually constructive communication