6 minute read


Intimacy Regulation In Couple Relationships

In order to reap the rewards of intimacy without experiencing undo anxiety and rejection, couples look for ways to regulate intimate contact in their relationships. Each couple seeks their own balance between intimate encounter and risk, based on their respective individual intimacy capacities and preferences and on the other strengths of their relationship (Fitzpatrick 1988).

One way that couples regulate the risk of rejection and relationship dissolution is through selective disclosure and withholding of disclosure. Leslie A. Baxter and William W. Wilmot (1985) found that disclosure regarding certain topics (e.g., extra-relationship activity, relationship norms, conflict-inducing topics) was avoided in college student dating relationships because these topics were perceived as threatening to the relationship. Secrecy may also be used to prevent some of intimacy's risks (Finkenauer and Hazam 2000).

Couples also need to regulate intimacy in order to preserve each partner's perception of himor herself as a distinct individual. Because intimacy involves some blurring of individual boundaries in the interest of each knowing the other and maintaining the bond between them, intimate times need to be balanced with time alone or time for separate interests. Intimacy and autonomy may exist in a dialectical tension in relationships, in which neither needs to conflict with the other but both can and must coexist for a relationship to function well (Baxter and Wilmot 1985). In support of this notion, Karlein M. G. Schreurs and Bram P. Buunk (1996) found that, in lesbian relationships, intimacy and autonomy were both positively related to satisfaction. Emotional dependency, in contrast, was not, nor was it positively correlated with autonomy; it was, however, to intimacy. Perhaps intimacy can coexist with either autonomy or emotional dependency, but the highest levels of satisfaction accompany intimacy and autonomy in combination.


Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1989). "Attachments Beyond Infancy." American Psychologist 44:709–716.

Altman, I., and Taylor, D. A. (1978). Social Penetration: The Developmental of Interpersonal Relationships. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Antill, J. K., and Cotton, S. (1987). "Self-Disclosure between Husbands and Wives: Its Relationship to Sex Roles and Marital Happiness." Australian Journal of Psychology 39:11–24.

Appleby, P. R.; Miller, L. C.; and Rothspan, S. (1999). "The Paradox of Trust for Male Couples: When Risking is a Part of Loving." Personal Relationships 6:81–93.

Aron, A.; Aron, E. N.; Tudor, M.; and Nelson, G. (1991). "Close Relationships as Including the Other in the Self." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60:241–253.

Bagarozzi, D. A. (1999). "Marital Intimacy: Assessment and Clinical Considerations." In The Intimate Couple, ed. J. Carlson and L. Sperry. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.

Baxter, L. A., and Wilmot, W. W. (1985). "Taboo Topics in Close Relationships." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 2:253–269.

Berman, J. J.; Murphy-Berman, V.; and Pachauri, A. (1988). "Sex Differences in Friendship Patterns in India and in the United States." Basic and Applied Social Psychology 9:61–71.

Berscheid, E. (1983). "Emotion." In Close Relationships: Development and Change, ed. H. H. Kelly, E. Berscheid, A. Christensen, J. H. Harvey, T. L. Huston,
G. Levinger, E. McClintock, L. A. Peplau, and D. R. Peterson. New York: Freeman.

Blumstein, P., and Schwartz, P. (1983). American Couples: Money, Work, Sex. New York: Morrow.

Brennan, K. A., and Morris, K. A. (1997). "Attachment Styles, Self-Esteem, and Patterns of Seeking Feedback from Romantic Partners." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23:23–31.

Burgoon, J. K.; Buller, D. B.; Hale, J. L.; and deTurck, M. A. (1991). "Relational Messages Associated with Nonverbal Behaviors." Human Communication Research 10:351–378.

Chelune, G. J.; Robison, J. T.; and Krommor, M. J. (1984). "A Cognitive Interactional Model of Intimate Relationships." In Communication, Intimacy, and Close Relationships, ed. V. J. Derlega. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

Collins, N. L., and Read, S. J. (1990). "Adult Attachment, Working Models, and Relationship Quality in Dating Couples." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58:644–663.

Derlega, V. J.; Metts, S.; Petronio, S.; and Margulis, S. T. (1993). Self-Disclosure. London: Sage Publications.

Finkenauer, C., and Hazam, H. (2000). "Disclosure and Secrecy in Marriage: Do Both Contribute to Marital Satisfaction?" Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 17:245–263.

Fitzpatrick, M. A. (1988). Between Husbands and Wives. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Fletcher, G. J. O. (1983). "Sex Differences in Causal Attributions for Marital Separation." New Zealand Journal of Psychology 12:82–89.

Haas, S. M.; and Stafford, L. (1998). "An Initial Examination of Maintenance Behaviors in Gay and Lesbian Relationships." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 15:846–855.

Hendrick, S. S. (1981). "Self-Disclosure and Marital Satisfaction." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 40:980–988.

Hinde, R. A. (1981). "The Bases of a Science of Interpersonal Relationships." In Personal Relationships, ed. S. W. Duck and R. Gilmour. London: Academic Press.

Huston, T. L.; McHale, S. M.; and Crouter, A. C. (1986). "When the Honeymoon's Over: Changes in the Marriage Relationship over the First Year." In The Emerging Field of Personal Relationships, ed. R. Gilmour and S. W. Duck. New York: Academic Press.

Johnson, S. M., and Greenberg, L. S. (1994). "Emotion in Intimate Relationships: Theory and Implications for Therapy." In The Heart of the Matter, ed. S. H. Johnson and L. S. Greenberg. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Jones, S. E., and Yarbrough, E. (1985). "A Naturalistic Study of the Meanings of Touch." Communication Monographs 52:19–56.

Kurdek, L. A. (1995). "Developmental Changes in Relationship Quality in Gay and Lesbian Cohabiting Couples." Developmental Psychology 31:86–94.

Laurenceau, J-P.; Barret, L. F.; and Pietromonaco, P. R. (1998). "Intimacy As an Interpersonal Process: The Importance of Self-Disclosure, Partner Disclosure, and Perceived Partner Responsiveness in Interpersonal Exchanges." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74:1238–1251.

Lippert, T., and Prager, K. J. (2001). Daily Experiences of Intimacy: A Study of Couples. Personal Relationships.

McAdams, D. P. (1988). "Personal Needs and Personal Relationships." In Handbook of Personal Relationships: Theory, Relationships, and Interventions, ed. S. W. Duck. New York: Wiley.

Miller, L. C., and Berg, J. (1984). "Selectivity and Urgency in Interpersonal Exchange." In Communication, Intimacy, and Close Relationships, ed. V. J. Derlega. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

Murray, S. L.; Holmes, J. G.; and Griffin, D. W. (2000). "Self-Esteem and the Quest for Felt Security: How Perceived Regard Regulates Attachment Processes." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78:478–498.

Prager, K. J. (1995). The Psychology of Intimacy. New York: Guilford Press.

Prager, K. J. (1999). "The Multi-Layered Context of Intimacy." In The Intimate Couple, ed. J. Carlson and L. Sperry. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.

Prager, K. J., and Buhrmester, D. (1998). "Intimacy and Need Fulfillment in Couple Relationships." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 15:435–469.

Regan, P. C. (1998). "Of Lust and Love: Beliefs about the Role of Sexual Desire in Romantic Relationships." Personal Relationships 5:139–157.

Reis, H. T., and Shaver, P. (1988). "Intimacy as Interpersonal Process." In Handbook of Personal Relationships: Theory, Relationships, and Interventions, ed. S. Duck. New York: Wiley.

Rubenstein, C. M., and Shaver, P. (1982). In Search of Intimacy. New York: Delacorte Press.

Ruvolo, A. P., and Fabin, L. A. (1999). Two of a Kind: "Perceptions of Own and Partner's Attachment Characteristics." Personal Relationships 6:57–79.

Sanderson, C. A., and Evans, S. M. (2001). "Seeing One's Partner through Intimacy-Colored Glasses: An Examination of the Processes underlying the Intimacy Goals-Relationship Satisfaction Link." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 27:463–473.

Schreurs, K. M. G., and Buunk, B. P. (1996). "Closeness, Autonomy, Equity, and Relationship Satisfaction in Lesbian Couples." Psychology of Women Quarterly 20:577–592.

Steil, J. M. (1997). Marital Equality: Its Relationship to the Well-Being of Husbands and Wives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Stephan, C. W., and Bachman, G. F. (1999). "What's Sex Got to Do with It? Attachment, Love Schemas, and Sexuality." Personal Relationships 6:111–123.

Sternberg, R. J. (1988). "Triangulating Love." In The Psychology of Love, ed. R. J. Sternberg and M. L. Barnes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Vangelisti, A. L., and Daly, J. A. (1997). "Gender Differences in Standards for Romantic Relationships." Personal Relationships 4:203–219.

Weiss, R. L. (1980). "Strategic Behavioral Marital Therapy: Toward a Model for Assessment and Intervention." In Advances in Family Intervention: Assessment and Theory, vol. 1, ed. J. P. Vincent. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.


Additional topics

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