Intimacy, Vulnerability, And Risk
Relative to the intimate relationship, there are few adult relational contexts in which the possibility of another's rejection is more threatening to the self and in which the possibility of acceptance is more self-affirming. Such stakes seem to necessitate a certain degree of caution. Intimates balance their experiences of closeness with experiences of felt security, and prevent themselves from risking more vulnerability than they can tolerate. Partners' tolerance for the risks of intimacy are related to their level of confidence in their partner's admiration, reciprocated affections, and commitment (Prager 1999). More secure partners may well be willing to risk more.
In established relationships, a climate of safety, which comes from each partner's sensitivity and positive regard of the other, allows partners to continue sharing their vulnerability with one another in intimate interactions. Taking risks—of being hurt, exposed, or made to feel foolish—is an integral part of intimate relating. The result of risk taking in the absence of negative consequences is trust, which fosters further intimacy. Supporting this notion is a study by Paul Robert Appleby, Lynn Carol Miller, and Sadina Rothspan (1999), who found that the most common reason given by gay men for engaging in sexually risky behavior was, ironically, that the behavior demonstrated the love, trust, and commitment shared by the partners.
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