Communication that is maladaptive for middle-class couples is adaptive for socioeconomically disadvantaged couples.

Demands for change in a relationship, particularly when met by behavioral withdrawal, foreshadow declines in relationship satisfaction. Yet demands can give partners opportunities to voice concerns, and withdrawal can serve to de-escalate conflict, stabilizing satisfaction instead (e.g., Overall, Fletcher, Simpson, & Sibley, 2009). We aim to reconcile these competing possibilities by arguing that withdrawal in response to requests for change will be detrimental among couples who possess the social, educational, and economic capital needed to address these requests, whereas withdrawal in response to partner demands will be constructive among couples with fewer resources for making the requested changes. Study 1 (N = 515 couples; 18-month follow-up) replicates the harmful effects of observed demand/withdraw communication on changes in wives’ satisfaction among relatively affluent couples, while documenting benefits of demand/withdraw communication among relatively disadvantaged couples. Using 4 waves of observational data, Study 2 (N = 431 couples; 9-, 18- and 27-month follow-ups) shows that socioeconomic risk moderates the covariation between the demand/withdraw pattern and wives’ relationship satisfaction, with higher levels of withdrawal again proving to be beneficial when socioeconomic risk is high. In both studies, behavioral withdrawal by men appears to be maladaptive when couples have resources and capacities to enact desired changes, but may be adaptive when those resources and capacities are lacking. Efforts to change couple communication without appreciating the larger social and economic contexts of those behaviors may be counterproductive. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)