Nourishing the Different Types of Intimacy in Your Relationship
Intimate relationships are characterized by attitudes of mutual trust, caring, and acceptance. A key part of our sexuality is our ability to be intimate: the ability to. These seven components of intimate relationships help define "intimacy." I have had the pleasure of teaching the course "Psychology of Relationships" to. When we talk about being intimate in a romantic relationship, we often we know our partner's psychological worlds, their history and hopes.
Defining Psychological Intimacy Despite the widespread attention in the professional literature to studies of intimate behavior, there has been little agreement about the meaning of intimacy in human relationships.
Any attempt to define intimacy in a meaningful way must attend to various perspectives on the subject as well as clarify the potential linkages between differing perspectives. In addition, the meaning of intimacy must be differentiated from related concepts, such as communicationcloseness, and attachment Prager, If we are to be meaningful, not to mention relevant to human relationships in general, Prager cautions that any definition of intimacy needs to be compatible with everyday notions about the meaning of psychological intimacy.
Because of the contextual and dynamic nature of relationships over time, however, a simple and static definition of intimacy is probably "unobtainable" Prager, Components of Psychological Intimacy Summarizing a large body of research, Berscheid and Reis stated: Intimacy has been used variously to refer to feelings of closeness and affection between interacting partners; the state of having revealed one's innermost thoughts and feelings to another person; relatively intense forms of nonverbal engagement notably, touch, eye contact, and close physical proximity ; particular types of relationships especially marriage ; sexual activity ; and stages of psychological maturation p.
Most frequently, intimacy has been used synonymously with personal disclosure Jourard, which involves "putting aside the masks we wear in the rest of our lives" Rubin,p. To be intimate is to be open and honest about levels of the self that usually remain hidden in daily life.
The extent of personal disclosure is proportionate to how vulnerable one allows oneself to be with a partner in revealing thoughts and feelings which are not usually apparent in social roles and behaviors of everyday life. Schaefer and Olson considered intimacy to be a dynamic process which included emotional, intellectual, social, and cultural dimensions.
Helgeson, Shaver, and Dyer asked individuals to describe instances where they had experienced feelings of intimacy with members of the same and opposite gender.
Self-disclosure, physical contact, sexual contact, sharing activities, mutual appreciation of the other, and warmth emerged as the major themes. Sexual and physical contact were mentioned frequently in describing intimacy in heterosexual relationships, but rarely mentioned in describing relationships with members of one's own gender.
Participants' definitions were not specific to either romantic or platonic relationships, so it is difficult to delineate what components of intimacy apply to different types of relationship.
Monsour examined conceptions of intimacy in same- and opposite-gender relationships of college students. Self-disclosure was the most salient characteristic of intimacy, followed by emotional expressiveness, unconditional support, shared activities, physical contact, and lastly, sexual contact.
It is important to note that the low ranking of sexual contact in this study may have been due to participants describing platonic, rather than romantic, relationships. This study also focused like others on short term relationships of young adults. In studying the characteristics of relationships that had lasted an average of 30 years Mackey, O'Brien and Mackey reported that sense of psychological intimacy emerged as a significant predictor of satisfaction between partners.
Across same- and opposite-gender couples, participants described intimacy as the verbal sharing of inner thoughts and feelings between partners along with mutual acceptance of those thoughts and feelings. Relatively little is known about nonverbal communication as an aspect of intimacy. Prager suggested that a glance or a touch may have great meaning between partners because of the mutual recognition of shared, albeit unspoken, experiences.
It appears reasonable to assume, however, that metacommunications in the form of nonverbal messages must be congruent with the exchange of words, if a sense of psychological intimacy is to develop and be sustained between two individuals.
At a minimum, metacommunications at a behavioral level cannot undermine or contradict words that may be used to enhance a sense of psychological intimacy between partners in a meaningful relationship. Sexual involvement between partners in a relationship is another aspect of intimacy. The phrase "intimate relationship" has been equated with sexual activity in several studies Swain, As mentioned earlier, Helgeson, Shaver, and Dyer also found that participants in their research associated intimacy with sexual contact.
Although studies tend to support the observations of Berschid and Reis regarding the components of intimacy, a significant issue in studies of intimacy is the failure to control for relationship type, the effects of gender, and relationship duration. All of these factors impact how intimacy is perceived and manifested by partners.
Gender and Intimacy Intimate communication may be experienced differently by men and women. According to Prager"few contextual variables have been studied more than gender, and few have been found more likely to affect intimate behavior" p.
In part, differences based on gender may be attributed to developmental experiences. Traditionally, males were prepared for the "breadwinner" role, while females were socialized "in ways that foster their abilities to maintain the emotional aspects of family life" p.
Macoby catalogued some of the interpersonal behaviors that men may learn through socialization: Noller described some of the behaviors women may learn through socialization: Changing cultural values toward androgyny in child-rearing and adult relationships are having a significant impact on gender roles today, and may be changing the meaning of intimacy for males and females in heterosexual and same-gender relationships Levant, In a self-report survey by Parks and Floydcollege students were asked what made their same- and cross-gender friendships close and how this closeness was expressed.
Across same- and different-gender friendships the authors "found no support for hypotheses suggesting that women or those with a feminine gender role identification would label their friendship as 'intimate' more than men or people with a more masculine gender role identification" p. The findings of Parks and Floyd support their argument that "sharp sex sic differences in interpersonal behavior has always been scant" p.
While helpful, this research, like many studies of intimacy, was conducted with a young adult and homogeneous sample that were reporting primarily on short-term relationships. The extent to which men and women define and express intimacy differently remains ambiguous, not unlike the concept itself. Men may value shared activities as an instrumental means to experiencing relational connectedness that may lead to a sense of psychological intimacy, while women may place greater value on sharing thoughts and feelings about themselves.
Even if these processes differentiate the meaning of intimacy to men and women, they cannot account for temperamental, contextual, or intervening factors in relationships at different points over their life spans. Sexual Orientation and Intimacy Research focused on qualities in the relationships of same-gender partners has been reported in the professional literature over the past two decades.
Peplau observed that "research on gay male and lesbian relationships dates mainly from the mid's" p. High dyadic attachment and low personal autonomy have been associated with the quality of relationships, a positive aspect of which was effective communication.
Research on the quality of communication in same-gender relationships has been, however, inconclusive. Perhaps, those characteristics of gay male relationships suggest gender differences, rather than differences based on sexual orientation. That is, males may experience comfort in valuing separateness and autonomony in relationships, whether or not they are gay or straight, a hypothesis originally proposed by Gilligan in her studies of gender differences.
In gay male relationships, distancing may become mutually rein forcing and lead to impaired communication between partners.
There has been much discussion over fusion in lesbian relationships based on hypotheses that have emerged from women's developmental research.
Elsie found that lesbian partners tended to merge emotionally, as compared to gay male partners who maintained emotional distance from each other. Mackey, O'Brien and Mackey found that a sample of lesbian couples together for more than 15 years valued autonomy within attachment and rejected the idea of fusion in their relationships.
Although these discrepancies may reflect gender differences within the context of these committed relationships, they may also be affected by how attachment and autonomy were defined operationally and how they were measured in these studies. Moreover, there is the issue of clarifying self-disclosure, fusion, and differentation as elements in psychological intimacy, e specially in lesbian relationships. Fairness in decision-making over roles, household responsibilities, and finances have been linked to relational satisfaction and potentially to perceptions of psychological intimacy.
In a recent study, Kurdek compared relational qualities among heterosexual, gay male, and lesbian couples at 1-year intervals over a 5-year period.
These qualities were levels of intimacy, autonomy, equity, ability to constructively problem-solve, and the ability barriers to leave the relationship. Of particular interest to our research were the scales that purported to measure "intimacy. That finding resonates with other research on intimacy in relationships and has been attributed to the relational orientation of women. The valuing of mutuality rather than of autonomy within relationships Surrey,may nurture the development of psychological intimacy in women's relationships.
The Significance of Psychological Intimacy to Well-Being Apart from its heuristic value in understanding loving relationships, psychological intimacy is important to an individual's well-being. Prager summarized the research on the positive effects of being involved in psychologically intimate relationships.
Citing several investigations by college students of Nazi Holocaust survivors, Prager argued for the benefits to well-being: Openness within a meaningful relationship has been found to reduce stress, enhance self-esteem and -respect, and reduce symptoms of physical and psychological impairment.
Conversely, studies of isolated individuals unable to engage in relationships that promote openness and disclosure of inner thoughts and feelings are at risk for developing physical and psychological symptoms.
Drawing from several studies, Prager concluded that "even people with sizable social networks are likely to develop symptoms of psycho logical disturbance in the face of stressful events if they lack confiding relationships. The definition that was developed see Method section was framed within the context of other contiguous dimensions of these relationships e. In this framework, psychological intimacy referred to the meaning associated with relational experiences, as reported in participants' interviews.
Operationally, psychological intimacy was defined as the sense that one could be open and honest in discussing with a partner personal thoughts and feelings not usually expressed in other relationships.
This concept of intimacy is different from actual observations of verbal and nonverbal interactions, which may contribute or not contribute over time to an inner sense of being psychologically intimate in relationships. The focus of our research was on inner psychological themes i. Based on our review of the literature on the meaning and experience of psychological intimacy, we suggest that any approach to understanding this important dimension of relationships must consider four interrelated components: These elements must be assessed at different points over the life-span of individuals and within the context of culture.
For example, these components may have a different significance for older couples who have been together for many years, such as those in this study, compared to couples who are at the beginning of a loving relationship. The meaning and expression of psychologically intimate communication may also vary between ethnic and racial groups, males and females, and partners in heterosexual and same-gender relationships. Given the potential connections between physical and psychological well-being, the quality of relationships and the demographic reality of an aging population, research into psychological inti macy among a diverse group of older heterosexual and same-gender couples is timely.
The resulting interview guide consists of focal questions that were designed to elicit how participants viewed several dimensions of their relationships. Collaborative researchers conducted additional pilot testing and provided feedback that led to further refinement of the interview guide. The guide, which was used in all interviews, was divided into four sections: The "recent years," the focus of this paper, can be categorized as the last 5 to 10 years prior to the interviews.
The "early years" are the years prior to the birth of the first child for couples who had children, or the first 5 years for those without children or who adopted children after being together for 5 years. The interview structure was designed to acquire in-depth information from the point of view of individual participants, to develop an understanding of how each partner adapted over the life span of their relationships.
An open-ended style of interviewing allowed for freedom of expression, to elicit information from the perspectives of participants about interactions with partners. The approach, which adapted clinical interviewing skills to the needs of the research, explored the experiences of individuals within relationships as they remembered and reported them.
The interviewers, advanced doctoral students with extensive clinical experience, were trained in the use of the interview guide. They were respectful and accepting of the uniqueness of each participant's perceptions.
Intimacy and Relationships
The interviews were held in the participants' homes, which provided additional information about lifestyles and environments. Prior to each interview, participants were told about the purpose of the study, given an overview of the interview schedule, and assured their identities would remain anonymous. Informed consent for audiotaping and the use of interviews for research were obtained. Each partner was interviewed separately; the length of each of the interviews was approximately 2 hours.
Sample Couples were recruited through business, professional, and trade union organizations, as well as through churches, synagogues, and a variety of other community organizations. Most couples resided in the northeast part of the country. The sample was chosen purposively to fit with the goal of developing an understanding of a diverse and older group of heterosexual and same-gender couples in lasting relationships.
Couples were recruited who met the following criteria: They were married or in a committed same-gender relationship for at least 15 years. The religious background of the couples was as follows: The mean number of years shared together was Coding Each interview was tape-recorded and transcribed to facilitate coding and prepare the data for both quantitative and qualitative analysis. Initially, a research team two women, two men coded eight transcriptions blindly and individually.
Detailed notes were kept and categories were generated. A relationship coding sheet was developed and used in subsequent coding of eight additional interviews.
As new categories arose, previous interviews were recoded in keeping with the constant comparative process. Having both genders involved in that process helped control for gender bias and contributed to the development of a shared conceptual analysis.
A scoring system was developed to identify themes that evolved from each section of the interviews. There were over 90 categories in 24 topic areas for every participant. Once the Relationship Coding Sheet was developed, each interview was coded and scored independently by two raters one male, one femalewho noted themes and categories as they emerged from the transcripts.
One of the authors coded all interviews to ensure continuity in the operational definitions of variables and consistency of judgments from case to case. Cohen's kappa, used as a measure of interrater reliability, ranged from. When discrepancies occurred the raters met to discuss their differences and to re-examine the original transcripts until a consensus was reached on how a particular item was to be scored.
In the second or current phase of the study, we re-examined the codes so as to prepare the data for quantitative analysis.
The What and How of True Intimacy
Many variables were re-coded into dichotomous categories. For example, psychological intimacy was originally coded into three categories positive, mixed, and negative.
Vignettes from the transcripts are used in the following pages to illustrate the meaning of psychological intimacy to participants during recent years. Chi-square analysis was used to examine the relationship between the independent variables--which included personal, demographic, and participants' reports of various dimensions of relationships--and the dependent variable of psychological intimacy in recent years.
The Alpha criterion was set at. The chi-square statistic seemed appropriate, since certain conditions were met. First, it has been very difficult to ensure randomness of samples in social and behavioral research, especially in studies that focus on new territory.
This nonprobability sample was selected deliberately to include older couples who have been understudied in previous research--namely, heterosexual and same-gender relationships that had lasted an average of 30 years. The goal was to identify factors that contributed to satisfaction from the perspectives of individual partners rather than to test hypotheses. Second, compared to other tests of statistical significance, chi-square has fewer requirements for population characteristics.
Third, the expected frequency of five observations in most table cells was met. To assess the strength of the associations between psychological intimacy and the independent variables, a correlation analysis was conducted. Because of the dichotomous nature of the variables, a phi coefficient was computed for the dependent variable and each independent variable. Variables that had been related significantly to psychological intimacy in the chi-square analysis and identified in previous studies as having importance to understanding psychological intimacy were selected for building a theoretical model.
Based on the phi coefficients, communication was not included in the model see next section. Two models were tested using logistic regression: Logistic regression was a useful tool in this exploratory research, where the goal was to develop theory rather than test it Menard, Participants talked of experiencing psychological intimacy when they were able to share their inner thoughts and feelings they felt to be accepted, if not understood, by the partner.
Such experiences were associated with feelings of mutual connection between partners. When participants talked of being psychologically intimate with their partners, a sense of peace and contentment permeated their remarks. This definition, derived from the participants' reports, resonated with components of psychological intimacy identified in the literature review of this paper. Coding this variable involved an assessment of responses to questions that asked each partner to talk about their relationships.
These questions included a range of topics such as what the partner meant to the participant, how their relationships may have been different from other relationships, how participants felt about being open with their partners, what words best described the meaning of the partner to a participant, etc. Of particular importance were questions that elicited responses about the quality of communication such as, "How would you describe the communication between you?
Therefore, we decided not to include communication as an independent variable in the regression analysis. Psychologically intimate communication captures what we are referring to as "psychological intimacy. I feel like I can be who I am. Now, she doesn't always like everything about that.
But I can still be that way, and I don't have to pretend. That's never been something that we've had to do. I would be horrified if that had to be. I just can't imagine what that's like. I don't see us as fused. It's important to me not to be. I don't like it. I don't think it's healthy. I don't want to be in a relationship like that. It's important to me, for us, to be individuals, as well. She's my best friend.
There's a peacefulness about that. I can be whoever I am. I can say stuff to her that I would never say to anyone else. There are parts of myself that I don't particularly like, and I don't really share with other people, but it's OK to share with her.
She'll take them in. She'll understand where it's coming from. The partner spoke of how their psychological intimacy had evolved: Although we like a lot of the same things, our interests are different. I've appreciated the fact that she has been the one who will raise an issue or problem for the purpose of resolution or improvement, and not just because she's angry. She seems to be willing to take that initiative. I didn't grow up in that kind of setting, so I think that's one reason this has worked.
I think we both each really like the other one a lot There was a bond early on, in part because it was a different kind of relationship I can be much more vulnerable now I look to her for help with it, which wasn't something I knew how to do before. As the couples in this study grew older together the experience of psychological intimacy was marked by a deepening sense of relational communion between them, yet a respect for their differences, as illustrated in the relationships of that couple.
A heterosexual couple reflected on the meaning of intimacy in their relationship that had lasted 30 years. The wife experienced her spouse as: My best friend, best lover Unfortunately, we have not had parents for many years. He is my parent as well as my friend. He is the person who most cares what is happening to me.
The meaning of intimacy to her husband was described by him: I just like her to be next to me, near me. If you don't have that feeling, I think there is a piece that is missing. I think we are our own people, but we do it together.
You just have to respect the other person The responses of these four partners reflected several themes that were central to understanding and defining psychological intimacy. One theme, openness, reflected a sense of comfort in "being one's self," to be able to reveal and say things to a partner that one felt could not be said to others; the use of the expression, "best friend," was often used by participants in describing this reciprocal dimension of their relationships.
The second theme, interdependence, referred to maintaining separateness within the attachment to a partner. Maintaining interpersonal boundaries in these relationships apparently helped to sustain a sense of psychological intimacy; that is, individuals felt "safe" in revealing their inner thoughts and feelings because they could count on a partner to respect their separateness and to accept, if not understand, them.
Third, psychological intimacy was not a constant in relationships but a sense or a representation in one's mind that one could confide in a partner if one needed to discuss personal matters. For both women and men, themes of connectedness, separateness, and mutuality were apparent in their responses, although men tended to emphasize proximity and women mutuality.
The variable had to be identified in previous studies as a significant factor in shaping psychological intimacy. The variable had to be related significantly to psychological intimacy in the chi-square analysis see Table I and not be correlated substantially with the dependent variable. Based on these criteria, the independent variables were: There were questions that explored the nature of conflict. If disagreements and differences between partners had a negative effect on a participant and were viewed as disruptive to relationships, such as a cut-off in all verbal communication, conflict was coded as "major.
It takes gentle handling and patience by all involved. It takes the willingness to make mistakes and to forgive them in the name of learning. Intimacy is what most people long for but not everyone finds, or rather, makes.
Because intimacy, true closeness with another human being, can also be scary. Getting to the intimate core of a relationship requires that both people work through their fear. By visiting and revisiting these areas, intimacy matures and mellows over time. A truly intimate relationship lets both people know on the deepest level who they each truly are.
Neither person feels the need to change the other or to change themselves in fundamental ways. Oh yes, minor changes always occur when people accommodate each other to live together. True intimacy happens when both people feel safe enough to be vulnerable. The couple has agreed on a definition of fidelity and both feel secure that the other will not violate that understanding.
Issues are confronted by both people with love, compassion and a willingness to engage with whatever problems have come up. The two work to be on the same team, solving a problem, rather than on different teams competing with each other.
Intimacy grows when people stay emotionally connected, even when there are problems to solve. How to Nurture Intimacy: The first rule for having an intimate relationship is to choose wisely in the first place. Even more telling is if your partner regularly accuses, blames or harasses you or requires that you not stay close to other friends. Make yourself available for someone who will honor and cherish you and support you for who you are.
As a new relationship grows, gradually show yourselves to each other — both the most attractive and the not so attractive features of who you are.
Opposites may initially attract but they are also often the seeds of dissatisfaction as a relationship evolves over time. Explore your differences and decide if they are interesting and exciting or deal breakers. Intimacy requires that your relationship with each other is somehow different from your relationships with everyone else. Many couples draw the boundary around their sexual exclusivity. Others define their intimacy in different ways.
- Nourishing the Different Types of Intimacy in Your Relationship
- The What and How of True Intimacy
- Intimate relationship