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

Intimacy is a cornerstone of a good couple relationship and facilitates the health and well-being of the partners. In an intimate interaction, partners reveal their private selves to one another, sharing parts of themselves that are ordinarily hidden. Ideally, they receive one another's personal revelations with nonjudgmental acceptance and continued interest, attraction, and caring, and validate one another by indicating that they too have had such thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Intimacy is beneficial for individual health and well-being. Individuals who perceive their spouses to be supportive confidantes are buffered from the pathogenic effects of stress. This buffering effect can be observed with a variety of stressors (e.g., births, illnesses, deaths), and with various stress-related outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety, illness). In contrast, people whose intimacy needs are not met feel lonelier (Rubenstein and Shaver 1982) and their relationships are more prone to dissolution (Hendrick 1981).

Intimacy is beneficial, but attaining a style of intimate relating that meets both partners' needs is a challenge. Intimacy entails risks: People expose their most vulnerable selves to the other and may not receive a sensitive response. Worse, partners sometimes hurl previously whispered confidences at one another as weapons in a struggle for control. For these reasons and more, partners seek a fine-tuned communication process by which they seek, decline, and regulate intimate contact in their relationship.

There is very little research on conceptions of intimacy internationally. The focus of this entry, therefore, is on North America.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationships