It has long been proposed that self-disclosure and empathic responding form the basis of good quality intimate relationships.
A study by Alexandra Mitchell and her colleagues in 2008 examined 102 couples who completed intimacy measures following videotaped discussions about relationship problems and crises occurring both within and outside the relationship. They reported that “…men’s own disclosure and empathic responding predicted their feelings of intimacy, whereas women’s intimacy was predicted by their partner’s disclosure and empathic responding.”
“Self-disclosure and empathic responding appear to be important behavioural determinants of intimate feelings, but the manner in which they influence intimacy differs according to gender.”
This suggests that aspects of empathic responding may influence intimacy in men and women differently. The authors summarised these differences as follows:
- Men’s caring predicted their own intimacy, whereas their understanding and validation did not. Men may feel more effective in responding to their partner’s vulnerability and, therefore, closer to their partner when they express affectionate concern for their partner rather than just understanding and acceptance of their partner’s disclosure.
- Women felt more intimate when their partners exhibited understanding, validation, and caring.
One practical implication of this finding is that couples whose relationship lacks intimacy may benefit from being encouraged to engage in constructive emotional disclosure discussions more frequently, particularly as a means of regaining closeness after relationship damage has occurred.
Men will feel a greater sense of intimacy from responding to their partner and expressing caring towards their partner, and their partners will feel a greater sense of intimacy because of this.
- Mitchell, Alexandra E, Castellani, Angela M, Herrington, Rachael L, Joseph, Jana I, Doss, Brian D, Snyder, Douglas K (2008). Predictors of intimacy in couples’ discussions of relationship injuries: An observational study. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 21-29.
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