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Intimacy And The Couple Relationship

Most writers argue that intimacy is more than a type of interaction. It is also a "detailed knowledge or deep understanding" of the other, acquired over time within the context of a loving relationship (Bargarozzi 1999). Across repeated interactions, relationship partners form general perceptions that reflect the degree to which the relationship is intimate. Over time, these perceptions take on an emergent property that extends beyond the experiences contained within any particular interaction (Chelune, Robison, and Krommor 1984). These perceptions, or intimacy schemas, encapsulate each partner's experience with the other over time, and mediate the impact of individual interactions.

Intimacy schemas, if they represent mostly positive experiences, can result in a back-drop of loving, positive feelings about the partner that buffer the relationship from the inevitable negative emotions that arise. This positive sentiment override (Weiss 1980) can sustain the relationship even when shared intimate experiences are not immediately forthcoming. A similar pattern exists with partners' perceptions of support availability, which persist during times when the partners are not seeking support from one another and, in turn, reliably distinguish between more and less satisfied couples.

Finally, the information gleaned from intimate interactions becomes a base of knowledge and understanding of the partner that goes beyond understanding a particular message or communication. As two people become more intimate, partners come to perceive one another as each perceives her- or himself, yet in a more positive light (Murray, Holmes, and Griffin 2000). When a deeper, richer knowledge of the other is accompanied by acceptance and respect for the partner's interests, preferences, and proclivities, the partners have by definition formed an intimate relationship.

Arthur Aron and colleagues (1991) suggest that increased intimacy leads to the psychological inclusion of the other within the self, so that the boundaries of the self extend to include the other's well-being and her or his desirable and undesirable characteristics. Perhaps as a result of this inclusion, more intimate partners may project themselves onto the other and perceive the other as more similar to themselves than he or she actually is (Ruvolo and Fabin 1999). Ann P. Ruvolo and Lisa A. Fabin argue that it is validating to perceive others as having similar values and characteristics to oneself, especially when it comes to one's intimate partner. Further, through mutual influence, partners may actually become more similar as a result of confiding in and listening to one another. More intimate partners do not necessarily idealize one another, but relative to those who are less intimate, they do tend to see the other as more similar to the self.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsIntimacy - Conceptions Of Intimacy, Intimate Interactions, Openness And Self-disclosure , Partner Responsiveness , Communication Of Positive Regard