Intimate relationship

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An intimate relationship is an interpersonal relationship that involves physical or emotional intimacy. [1] Although an intimate relationship is commonly a sexual relationship, [2] it may also be a non-sexual relationship involving family, friends, or acquaintances. [2] [3]


Emotional intimacy involves feelings of liking or loving one or more people, and may result in physical intimacy. [4] Physical intimacy is characterized by romantic love, sexual activity, or other passionate attachment. [1] These relationships play a central role in the overall human experience. [4] Humans have a general desire to belong and to love, which is usually satisfied within an intimate relationship. [5] Such relationships allow a social network for people to form strong emotional attachments. [3] [4]


Intimacy involves the feeling of being in a close, personal association and belonging together. [6] It is a familiar and very close affective connection with another as a result of a bond that is formed through knowledge and experience of the other. [6] Genuine intimacy in human relationships requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability, and reciprocity. [6] Dalton (1959) discussed how anthropologists and ethnographic researchers access "inside information" from within a particular cultural setting by establishing networks of intimates capable (and willing) to provide information unobtainable through formal channels. [7]

In human relationships, the meaning and level of intimacy varies within and between relationships. [6] In anthropological research, intimacy is considered the product of a successful seduction, a process of rapport building that enables parties to confidently disclose previously hidden thoughts and feelings. Intimate conversations become the basis for "confidences" (secret knowledge) that bind people together. [8]

Sustaining intimacy for a length of time involves well-developed emotional and interpersonal awareness. Intimacy involves the ability to be both separate and together participants in an intimate relationship. Murray Bowen called this "self-differentiation," which results in a connection in which there is an emotional range involving both robust conflict and intense loyalty. [9] Lacking the ability to differentiate oneself from the other is a form of symbiosis, a state that is different from intimacy, even if feelings of closeness are similar.

Intimate behavior joins family members and close friends, as well as those in love. [2] It evolves through reciprocal self-disclosure and candor. [6] Poor skills in developing intimacy can lead to getting too close too quickly; struggling to find the boundary and to sustain connection; being poorly skilled as a friend, rejecting self-disclosure or even rejecting friendships and those who have them. [10] Psychological consequences of intimacy problems are found in adults who have difficulty in forming and maintaining intimate relationships. Individuals often experience the human limitations of their partners, and develop a fear of adverse consequences of disrupted intimate relationships. Studies show that fear of intimacy is negatively related to comfort with emotional closeness and with relationship satisfaction, and positively related to loneliness and trait anxiety. [11]

The interdependence model of Levinger and Snoek divides the development of intimate relationship into four stages: the first one is zero contact stage, which is no contact between the two parties in the relationship; The second stage is awareness, which means people don't have any superficial or deep contact with each other, but just know each other; The third stage is surface contact, in which both parties know each other and have had superficial contact; The fourth stage of coexistence phase (mutuality), refers to the mutual dependence has greatly increased, there are also deep contact existing, [12]


Bonding between a mother and child Mother-Child face to face.jpg
Bonding between a mother and child

Scholars distinguish between different forms of intimacy, including physical, emotional, cognitive, or spiritual intimacy. [13] [14]


Empirical research

The use of empirical investigations in 1898 was a major revolution in social analysis. [19] A study conducted by Monroe examined the traits and habits of children in selecting a friend. Some of the attributes included in the study were kindness, cheerfulness and honesty. [4] Monroe asked 2336 children aged 7 to 16 to identify "what kind of chum do you like best?" The results of the study indicate that children preferred a friend that was their own age, of the same sex, of the same physical size, a friend with light features (hair and eyes), friends that did not engage in conflict, someone that was kind to animals and humans, and finally that they were honest. Two characteristics that children reported as least important included wealth and religion. [4]

The study by Monroe was the first to mark the significant shift in the study of intimate relationships from analysis that was primarily philosophical to those with empirical validity. [4] This study is said to have finally marked the beginning of relationship science. [4] In the years following Monroe's study, very few similar studies were done. There were limited studies done on children's friendships, courtship and marriages, and families in the 1930s but few relationship studies were conducted before or during World War II. [19] Intimate relationships did not become a broad focus of research again until the 1960s and 1970s when there was a vast amount of relationship studies being published. [4]

Other studies

Sexual relationship is often crowned with marriage. Placing a wedding ring.jpg
Sexual relationship is often crowned with marriage.

The study of intimate relationships uses participants from diverse groups and examines a wide variety of topics that include family relations, friendships, and romantic relationships, usually over a long period. [4] Current study includes both positive and negative or unpleasant aspects of relationships.[ citation needed ]

Research being conducted by John Gottman (2010) and his colleagues involves inviting married couples into a pleasant setting, in which they revisit the disagreement that caused their last argument. Although the participants are aware that they are being videotaped, they soon become so absorbed in their own interaction that they forget they are being recorded. [4] With the second-by-second analysis of observable reactions as well as emotional ones, Gottman is able to predict with 93% accuracy the fate of the couples' relationship. [4]

Terri Orbuch and Joseph Veroff (2002) monitored newlywed couples using self-reports over a long period (a longitudinal study). Participants are required to provide extensive reports about the natures and the statuses of their relationships. [4] Although many of the marriages have ended since the beginning of the study, this type of relationship study allows researchers to track marriages from start to finish by conducting follow-up interviews with the participants in order to determine which factors are associated with marriages that last and which with those that do not. [4] Though the field of relationship science is still relatively young, research conducted by researchers from many different disciplines continues to broaden the field. [4]

Evidence also points to the role of a number of contextual factors that can impact intimate relationships. In a recent study on the impact of Hurricane Katrina on marital and partner relationships, researchers found that while many reported negative changes in their relationships, a number also experienced positive changes. More specifically, the advent of Hurricane Katrina led to a number of environmental stressors (for example, unemployment, prolonged separation) that negatively impacted intimate relationships for many couples, though other couples' relationships grew stronger as a result of new employment opportunities, a greater sense of perspective, and higher levels of communication and support. [20] As a result, environmental factors are also understood to contribute heavily to the strength of intimate relationships.

A Northwestern University research team summarized the literature in 2013, finding that "negative-affect reciprocity" – retaliatory negativity between partners during a conflict – is arguably the most robust predictor of poor marital quality. However, this degradation can be softened (according to their 120 heterosexual couple Chicago sample) by undertaking a reappraisal writing task every four months. [21]

One study suggests that married straight couples and cohabiting gay and lesbian couples in long-term intimate relationships may pick up each other's unhealthy[ when defined as? ] habits. The study reports three distinct findings showing how unhealthy habits are promoted in long-term intimate relationships: through the direct bad influence of one partner, through synchronicity of health habits, and through the notion of personal responsibility.[ further explanation needed ] [22] [23]


Ancient philosophers: Aristotle

Over 2,300 years ago, interpersonal relationships were being contemplated by Aristotle. He wrote: "One person is a friend to another if he is friendly to the other and the other is friendly to him in return" (Aristotle, 330 BC, trans. 1991, pp. 72–73). Aristotle believed that by nature humans are social beings. [5] Aristotle also suggested that relationships were based on three different ideas: utility, pleasure, and virtue. People are attracted to relationships that provide utility because of the assistance and sense of belonging that they provide. In relationships based on pleasure, people are attracted to the feelings of pleasantness when the parties engage. However, relationships based on utility and pleasure were said to be short-lived if the benefits provided by one of the partners was not reciprocated. Relationships based on virtue are built on an attraction to the others' virtuous character. [4]

Aristotle also suggested that relationships based on virtue would be the longest lasting and that virtue-based relationships were the only type of relationship in which each partner was liked for themselves. The philosophical analysis used by Aristotle dominated the analysis of intimate relationships until the late 1880s. [19]

1880s to early 1900s

Modern psychology and sociology began to emerge in the late 19th century. During this time theorists often included relationships into their current areas of research and began to develop new foundations which had implications in regards to the analysis of intimate relationships. [19] Freud wrote about parent–child relationships and their effect on personality development. [5] Freud's analysis proposed that people's childhood experiences are transferred or passed on into adult relationships by means of feelings and expectations. [19] Freud also founded the idea that individuals usually seek out marital partners who are similar to that of their opposite-sex parent. [19]

In 1891, William James wrote that a person's self-concept is defined by the relationships endured with others. [5] In 1897, Émile Durkheim's interest in social organization led to the examination of social isolation and alienation. [5] This was an influential discovery of intimate relationships in that Durkheim argued that being socially isolated was a key antecedent of suicide. [5] This focus on the darker side of relationships and the negative consequences associated to social isolation were what Durkheim labeled as anomie. [19] Georg Simmel wrote about dyads, or partnerships with two people. [4] Simmel suggested that dyads require consent and engagement of both partners to maintain the relationship but noted that the relationship can be ended by the initiation of only one partner. [19] Although the theorists mentioned above sought support for their theories, their primary contributions to the study of intimate relationships were conceptual and not empirically grounded. [4]

1960s and 1970s

An important shift was taking place in the field of social psychology that influenced the research of intimate relationships. Until the late 1950s, the majority of studies were non-experimental. [19] By the end of the 1960s more than half of the articles published involved some sort of experimental study. [19] The 1960s was also a time when there was a shift in methodology within the psychological discipline itself. Participants consisted mostly of college students, experimental methods and research were being conducted in laboratories and the experimental method was the dominant methodology in social psychology. [19] Experimental manipulation within the research of intimate relationships demonstrated that relationships could be studied scientifically. [4] This shift brought relationship science to the attention of scholars in other disciplines and has resulted in the study of intimate relationships being an international multidiscipline. [4]

1980s to 2000s

In the early 1980s the first conference of the International Network of Personal Relationships (INPR) was held. Approximately 300 researchers from all over the world attended the conference. [19] In March 1984, the first journal of Social and Personal Relationships was published. [19] In the early 1990s the INPR split off into two groups; in April 2004 the two organizations rejoined and became the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR). [4]

Donald Nathanson, a psychiatrist who built his study of human interactions off of the work of Silvan Tomkins, argues that an intimate relationship between two individuals is best when the couple agrees to maximize positive affect, minimize negative affect and allow for the free expression of affect. These findings were based on Tomkin's blueprint for emotional health, which also emphasizes doing as much of the maximizing, minimizing and expressing as possible. [24]

See also

Terms for members of intimate relationships

Related Research Articles

An interpersonal relationship is a strong, deep, or close association or acquaintance between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring. The context can vary from family or kinship relations, friendship, marriage, relations with associates, work, clubs, neighborhoods, and places of worship. Relationships may be regulated by law, custom, or mutual agreement, and form the basis of social groups and of society as a whole.

An affair is a sexual relationship, romantic friendship, or passionate attachment between two people without the attached person's significant other knowing.

Jealousy generally refers to the thoughts or feelings of insecurity, fear, and concern over a relative lack of possessions or safety.

Romance (love) Type of love that focuses on feelings

Romance is an emotional feeling of love for, or a strong attraction towards another person, and the courtship behaviors undertaken by an individual to express those overall feelings and resultant emotions.

Infidelity Cheating, adultery, or having an affair

Infidelity is a violation of a couple's assumed or stated contract regarding emotional and/or sexual exclusivity. Other scholars define infidelity as a violation according to the subjective feeling that one's partner has violated a set of rules or relationship norms; this violation results in feelings of anger, jealousy, sexual jealousy, and rivalry.

Emotional intimacy is an aspect of interpersonal relationships that varies in intensity from one relationship to another and varies from one time to another, much like physical intimacy. Emotional intimacy involves a perception of closeness to another that allows sharing of personal feelings, accompanied by expectations of understanding, affirmation, and demonstration of caring.

Haptic communication Branch of nonverbal communication that refers to the ways in which people and animals communicate, and interact via the sense of touch

Haptic communication is a branch of nonverbal communication that refers to the ways in which people and animals communicate and interact via the sense of touch. Touch is the most sophisticated and intimate of the five senses. Touch or haptics, from the ancient Greek word haptikos is extremely important for communication; it is vital for survival.

The triangular theory of love is a theory of love developed by Robert Sternberg, a member of the Psychology Department at Yale University. During his time as a professor, Sternberg emphasized his research in the fields of intelligence, creativity, wisdom, leadership, thinking styles, ethical reasoning, love, and hate. In the context of interpersonal relationships, "the three components of love, according to the triangular theory, are an intimacy component, a passion component, and a decision/commitment component."

Self-disclosure is a process of communication by which one person reveals information about themself to another. The information can be descriptive or evaluative, and can include thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, failures, successes, fears, and dreams, as well as one's likes, dislikes, and favorites.

Caring in intimate relationships is the practice of providing care and support to an intimate relationship partner. Caregiving behaviours are aimed at reducing the partner's distress and supporting his or her coping efforts in situations of either threat or challenge. Caregiving may include emotional support and/or instrumental support. Effective caregiving behaviour enhances the care-recipient's psychological well-being, as well as the quality of the relationship between the caregiver and the care-recipient. However, certain suboptimal caregiving strategies may be either ineffective or even detrimental to coping.

In psychology, the theory of attachment can be applied to adult relationships including friendships, emotional affairs, adult romantic or platonic relationships and in some cases relationships with inanimate objects. Attachment theory, initially studied in the 1960s and 1970s primarily in the context of children and parents, was extended to adult relationships in the late 1980s.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to interpersonal relationships.

The social penetration theory (SPT) proposes that, as relationships develop, interpersonal communication moves from relatively shallow, non-intimate levels to deeper, more intimate ones. The theory was formulated by psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor in 1973 to understand relationship development between individuals. Altman and Taylor note that relationships "involve different levels of intimacy of exchange or degree of social penetration". SPT is known as an objective theory as opposed to an interpretive theory, meaning that it is based on data drawn from experiments and not from conclusions based on individuals' specific experiences.

Fear of intimacy is generally a social phobia and anxiety disorder resulting in difficulty forming close relationships with another person. The term can also refer to a scale on a psychometric test, or a type of adult in attachment theory psychology.

Social connection is the experience of feeling close and connected to others. It involves feeling loved, cared for, and valued, and forms the basis of interpersonal relationships.

"Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship." —Brené Brown, Professor of social work at the University of Houston

The term emotional affair is used to categorise or explain a certain type of relationship.

Relational transgressions occur when people violate implicit or explicit relational rules. These transgressions include a wide variety of behaviors. The boundaries of relational transgressions are permeable. Betrayal for example, is often used as a synonym for a relational transgression. In some instances, betrayal can be defined as a rule violation that is traumatic to a relationship, and in other instances as destructive conflict or reference to infidelity.

Workplace relationships are unique interpersonal relationships with important implications for the individuals in those relationships, and the organizations in which the relationships exist and develop.

Definitions of sexual desire are broad and understandings of sexual desire are subjective. However, the development of various ways of measuring the construct allows for extensive research to be conducted that facilitates the investigation of influences of sexual desire. Particular differences have been observed between the sexes in terms of understanding sexual desire both with regard to one's own sexual desires, as well as what others desire sexually. These beliefs and understandings all contribute to how people behave and interact with others, particularly in terms of various types of intimate relationships.

Intimacy anorexia is a relationship disorder that occurs mostly in the context of marriage or long-term romantic partnerships. This relationship disorder is defined by the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy as “The active withholding of emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy from the spouse or partner.”


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