Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
Research reveals how partners experience relational emotional health
Posted July 9, 2022 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
- Intimacy is vital for well-being and human functioning, as well individual adjustment and need fulfillment.
- Women are more inclined to communication, affection, and emotional closeness, and men are more inclined to sharing activities.
- Within an intimate relationship, both parties are mutually responsive even when physically separated.
Source: panajiotis / Pixabay
Spending quality time with a romantic partner involves feelings of closeness. Yet distance might be relative, as it is possible for a couple to be “alone together.” But how is intimacy experienced? And do men and women experience it differently? Research sheds some light on romantic partner perceptions.
Connected and Content
E. Constant et al. (2016) sought to measure the different personal assessments of intimacy experienced by men and women.[i] They began by acknowledging the centrality of intimacy within close relationships, as well as recognized gender differences in its definition and experience. They recognize a research-based definition of intimacy as “the emotional component of love” which relates particularly to “feelings of closeness, bondedness, and connectedness” (citing Sternberg, 1986). They note that intimacy is vital for well-being and human functioning, as well as individual adjustment and need fulfillment. It is additionally interpersonal by nature, including both self-disclosure and responsiveness.
Regarding gender differences, in their research, Constant et al. found women as more inclined to communication, affection, and emotional closeness, and men are more inclined to share activities or engage in joint leisure time, in addition to placing significant value on the sexuality component of a romantic relationship. Another gender difference included the finding that women listen more and are more understanding of the needs of their partners.
Response and Reciprocity
Prior research by Will Mosier examined the extent to which intimacy promoted relational health.[ii] He defined intimacy as the “quality of being close, self-disclosing, and affectionate with another person,” noting that within an intimate relationship, both parties are mutually responsive even when physically separated. Mosier also notes that intimacy can exist both with and without sexuality, and is never adequately defined by sexual expression only. Indeed, he notes that mutual affection is not the same as intimacy, and that true intimacy is not easily attainable, and for many couples, takes an extended period of time.
Mosier notes that intimacy between partners involves experiencing shared internal awareness, respect for personal character, and sincere responsiveness. It includes a mutual openness to sharing personal experiences, emotional closeness, empathy, and trust. It must be reciprocal and requires mutual consent; a relationship in which only one partner desires intimacy is not intimate.
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Mosier notes that intimacy is enhanced through mutual understanding, as well as the ability to perceive one’s own feelings, because people who have a hard time being close to themselves, also struggle with their ability to be close to others.
Conflict, Comfort, and Consistency
Couples who fight are not necessarily doomed to lose intimacy. It all depends on the manner of communication and the strength of the partnership. Toxic dynamics that disrupt intimacy include deceit and manipulation. Mosier notes that intimacy is not only compromised when partners engage in deceptive and manipulative behaviors, but also when they are incapable of honest self-disclosure. He notes that intimacy is also decreased when one party feels compelled to constantly monitor the relationship, which inhibits partner self-direction.
Regarding conflict, Mosier notes that partners who cannot handle disagreement are less likely to develop intimacy, although interpersonal conflict is sustainable within a relationship of consistent affirmation, patience, and unconditional positive regard.
Putting it all together, takeaways from intimacy research include the value of reciprocal affection and unconditional acceptance, knowing oneself as well as one’s partner, and appreciating how men and women contribute differently to building an intimate relationship that includes healthy levels of romance and respect.