When is Topic Avoidance Unsatisfying?

Examining Moderators of the Association Between Avoidance and Dissatisfaction


John Caughlin, Department of Speech Communication, 702 S. Wright St., #244 Lincoln Hall, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801. Email: caughlin@uiuc.edu.


Despite theoretical arguments that avoiding certain topics can be functional, there is consistent evidence that avoiding topics tends to be associated with dissatisfying relationships. This disparity between theory and empirical findings suggests a need to understand better the connection between topic avoidance and relational dissatisfaction. The current study, which is grounded in communication privacy management theory (Petronio, 2002), examines this issue by investigating moderators of the connection between avoidance and dissatisfaction. Data were gathered from 114 parent–child dyads and 100 heterosexual dating couples. Results suggested that the associations between topic avoidance and relational dissatisfaction were moderated by individuals’ motivations for avoidance and by personal and relational characteristics that are conceptually linked to such motivations. These findings are consistent with theoretical arguments that topic avoidance can be benign—and even helpful—in some relational circumstances.