The effect of intimacy in relationship has been studied in many different contexts. Everything from online social network use to cancer have been looked at in terms of relationship intimacy. For instance, the National Institutes of Health concluded that the way in which couples talk about cancer-related concerns can help build strong relationships, which in turn impacts psychological distress. (1)
Steven M Cohn, PhD, LMFT
The Portland Couples Counseling Center
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Portland, Oregon 97232
Other research has shown that intimacy mediates the relationship between social network usage and overall relationship satisfaction. This suggests that the level of closeness in relationships serves as a buffer to protect the overall level of satisfaction. (2)
As is true of most marriage-related dynamics, intimacy in relationship varies over the course of time. A recent study done by the University of Western Ontario provides proof that as open discussion waxes and wanes, so do passion and sexual satisfaction. Even sexual frequency was found to cycle in conformance with the level of emotional connection. (3)
There’s no doubt that the fear of closeness in relationship is a predictor of sexual dissatisfaction. People who have anxiety in social situations often carry that anxiety into the bedroom, making it more difficult for couples to engage in open sexual communication. In turn, the level of social satisfaction is lower. (4)
Given the importance of intimacy in relationships, it is concerning that some people believe we are being deprived of genuine connection in our age. The busy-ness of modern culture often doesn’t provide for true closeness. Although intimacy involves both emotional and physical closeness, many sexual couplings fail to provide for the emotional side of intimacy. This deficit leads to hurt feelings based on misunderstandings and confused perceptions.
At the heart of intimacy in relationship are empathy, understanding, and compassion. All of these help us to understand our sexual partners in more depth. Each of us brings certain expectations to a relationship, often based on past experience. It is only when we seek to have a greater understanding of our partners that we can approach true intimacy. Communication of our needs and desires is key.
Marriage and Family Therapist Zoe Hicks suggests that there are five stages of intimacy in relationships: infatuation, landing, burying, resurfacing, and love. Landing is described as the day you wake up and realize the honeymoon is over; your significant other has faults. Burying represents a commitment to your relationship in that you are willing to prevent these faults from killing your intimacy. Resurfacing is when you realize that each of us has good and bad points, and your mate’s are no worse than anyone else’s. All of these stages culminate in love, where you realize how blessed you are, to be experiencing intimacy in relationship with the person with whom you have chosen to spend so much time.
(1) Manne, Sharon, et al. Cancer-Related Communication, Relationship Intimacy, and Psychological Distress Among Couples Coping with Localized Prostate Cancer. J Cancer Surviv, 2010 Mar; 4(1): 74-85.
(2) Matthew M. Hand, Donna Thomas, Walter C. Buboltz, Eric D. Deemer, and Munkhsanaa Buyanjargal. Facebook and Romantic Relationships: Intimacy and Couple Satisfaction Associated with Online Social Network Use. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 2013 Jan; 16(1): 8-13.
(3) Rubin, Harris and Campbell, Lorne. Day-to-Day Changes in Intimacy Predict Heightened Relationship Passion, Sexual Occurrence, and Sexual Satisfaction: A Dyadic Diary Analysis. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2012 Mar; 3(2): 224-231.
(4) Montesi, Jennifer, et al. On the Relationship Among Social Anxiety, Intimacy, Sexual Communication, and Sexual Satisfaction in Young Couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior 2013 Jan; 42(1): 81-91.
Steven M. Cohn, PhD is honored to have been featured on CNBC.com.
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