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Treating Men in Search of Intimacy & Connection
Male intimacy continuing education Counselor CEU

Section 24
Intimacy and Examining Gender Differences

Question 24 | Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

Many theorists agree that intimacy is a multidimensional concept consisting of several specific components: love and affection, personal validation, trust, and self-disclosure. In this investigation, the authors tried to determine if 3 popular intimacy measures actually assess these 4 components and to see if women and men differ in their experiences of intimacy. Three hundred and sixty undergraduates completed the Miller Social Intimacy Scale (R. S. Miller & H. M. Lefcourt, 1982), the Persona/Assessment of Intimacy in Relationships Scale (M. T. Schaefer & D. H. Olson, 1981), and the Fear of Intimacy Scale (C. J. Descutner & M. H. Thelen, 1991). Results of factor analyses supported the 4 specific components of intimacy. Multivariate analysis of variance results corroborated that women and men did vary in their experiences of intimacy.

Throughout the ages, love has both delighted and puzzled those in its thrall. People knew how wonderful it was to be in love and in a close relationship but had difficulty expressing the exact definition of that feeling. As Beilby Porteus wrote in the late 1700s, "Love is something so divine, Description would but make it less; 'Tis what I feel, but can't define, 'Tis what I know but can't express" (as cited in Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2002, p. 355). Despite Porteus's urging for us not to describe love, researchers have been determined to do just that. Hence, many psychologists developed assessment tools designed to measure love (Berscheid, 1988; Berscheid, Snyder, & Omoto, 1989; Hendrick & Hendrick, 1986; Lee, 1977; Rubin, 1970; Sternberg, 1986, 1997).

In the attempt to clarify and measure such an indefinable concept as love, researchers quickly encountered problems, and diverging viewpoints emerged. Some believed love was a unidimensional concept. For example, Lee (1977) hypothesized six different styles of love, explaining everything from friendship love (storge) to altruistic love (agape). However, others disagreed with this view, theorizing that love was a multidimensional concept. One of the most influential theorists to articulate the multidimensional point of view was Sternberg (1986,1988,1997), who developed a triangular model of love. According to this model, love comprises three dimensions--passion, intimacy, and commitment--that form the vertices of a triangle. Various combinations of the three components can describe six different kinds of love (e.g., liking), but Sternberg (1988) believed that consummate love, the most fulfilling kind of love, was created by the presence of all three.

The creation and refinement of measures of love and close relationships were particularly useful to counselors in helping to enhance the relationships of couples, because it gave such professionals a concrete way to measure specific behaviors and feelings. The concept of intimacy in particular stood out as something worth examining. According to Sternberg's (1997) definition, intimacy seemed to be the crux of relationships. "Intimacy refers to the feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in loving relationships" (Sternberg, 1997, p. 315). As such, many counselors believed creating or solidifying intimacy within a loving relationship was one way to both maintain and enhance relationships (Napier, 1999; Prager, 1999; Schnarch, 2001). If intimacy is such an important part of love relationships and can be quantified, it seems that it would be important in the context of therapy. Couples having difficulty feeling close to one another or even couples just wanting to improve their relationship could be assisted in seeing what intimate behaviors and/or feelings were lacking and work on improving them. Responses to measures of intimacy could also be used in counseling to help each partner in a couple to discover what the other needs and wants in intimate interactions. Consequently, it is important to have the means to measure intimacy if it is to be an important aspect in counseling couples regarding their relationship.

The Components of Intimacy
Intimacy is a multidimensional concept that means different things to various people. This is especially true for individuals from different cultural backgrounds, because other cultures do not view intimacy as a necessity or even in the same way as it is viewed in the Western world (Hatfield & Rapson, 1993). Therefore, when discussing intimacy, the point of view from which it is being considered must be presented. The discussion of intimacy in this article is mainly from a Western, heterosexual, love dyadic point of view. Although much of what we discuss can be applied to other kinds of intimate relationships, including cross-cultural ones, the information presented herein should be viewed through such a lens.

Although opinions differ on a definition of intimacy, many theorists agree on the features that constitute an intimate interaction (Berscheid, 1985; Hat-field & Rapson, 1993; Levine, 1991; Prager, 1995, 1999). The first feature of intimacy most theorists identify is the presence of love and affection. As Berscheid (1985) pointed out, when people are aware that they are loved and liked, the risks associated with self-expression decrease, and they become more willing to open up and share their ideas and feelings. They know that people who show them love and affection will be much more receptive to their feelings and ideas than are people who do not care for them. Therefore, they rarely, if ever, confide in people who appear unconcerned or indifferent to them.

The second component of intimacy involves personal validation. One of the most exhilarating features of a loving relationship is the knowledge that someone loves, understands, and approves of you (Berscheid, 1985). Within such an atmosphere of acceptance, an individual feels free to open up. Thus, personal validation gives the person who is disclosing a sense of acceptance both of what is being said and of who they are. A third element of intimacy is trust. People have to know it is safe to disclose personal secrets. They have to be assured that their disclosure will remain confidential and their inner selves will not be laid bare before an uncaring world (Hatfield & Rapson, 1993). This willingness to disclose intimate details of one's life to people who are trustworthy is one reason why trust is such an important part, for example, of the counseling relationship.

A fourth ingredient of intimacy is self-disclosure. An intimate relationship cannot exist if the participants refuse to reveal parts of themselves. Self-disclosure encourages love, liking, caring, trust, and understanding (Hatfield & Rapson, 1993). The level of intimacy reached within a given relationship seems to depend on the kind of information disclosed. Descriptive self-disclosure, for instance, occurs when people tell the facts of their lives. This usually happens at the beginning of a relationship. In contrast, evaluative self-disclosure occurs when people reveal their deepest feelings. This becomes more prevalent as people begin to know each other well, because it is the expression of feelings that is crucial to dating and marital satisfaction. Another important aspect of self-disclosure involves the quality of disclosure each person contributes to the relationship. People tend to match each other in how intimate their disclosures are.

Relevance of Intimacy to Human Development and Functioning
Our society views intimacy as an important concept for several reasons. First, it is an important part of human development. In Erikson's (1959) psychosocial stages of development, intimacy versus isolation is the primary developmental task of young adults. An individual must meet her or his intimacy needs or she or he will be isolated. Erikson believed that it is only after a sense of identity has been established that real intimacy is possible. Without intimacy, people are unable to commit themselves to solid unions or to develop the moral energy to keep such commitments.

Second, intimacy is important because people go to great lengths to seek it out; it has intrinsic allure (Hatfield & Rapson, 1993). The reason behind this intrinsic appeal may be that having an intimate relationship with another person seems to fulfill a variety of psychological requirements. In Maslow's (1966) hierarchy of needs, the necessity for love and belonging occupies a central domain in the second level. Intimate relationships can satisfy this demand for love and belonging in a variety of ways. First, intimacy is a way to avoid loneliness. If one can turn to other people for support and nurturance, the isolating effects of loneliness can be circumvented (P. M. Brown, 1995). A second, more positive way of fulfilling needs is that it feels good to be intimate with another person. Intimate experiences can promote positive feelings about both oneself and another person, which may lead to feeling understood (Prager, 1995, 1999). A third way in which intimacy fulfills basic psychological needs is through the knowledge that one's needs will be fulfilled in the future (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Finally, intimate relationships fulfill the other central domain in Maslow's (1966) hierarchy--esteem. By providing a secure base and giving someone the validation, connection, and encouragement they need, intimate relationships enhance agentic needs, including the need for achievement, mastery, recognition, and self-esteem (Prager, 1995, 1999).

Another reason that intimacy is significant is because of its relationship to both psychological and physiological well-being. Several studies have concluded that difficulties with intimacy are closely associated with many mental health disorders (Levine, 1991; Prager, 1995, 1999). People who lack intimate relationships experience more stress-related symptoms, are more likely to develop illnesses, have slower recoveries from illness, and have a higher probability of relapse or recurrence of illness. They also have higher mortality and accident rates, show depressed immunological functioning, and are more at risk for depression. Moreover, close relationships affected by discord (the antithesis of intimacy) can be worse than no relationship at all for both the physical and the mental health of the people involved (Prager, 1995, 1999). Therefore, it seems apparent that if an individual cannot connect in a positive, intimate way with another human being, then physical, interpersonal, and emotional difficulties will ensue.

Whereas a lack of intimacy seems harmful, the presence of intimacy seems to work in a positive way. Erikson (1969) reported that in the period of early adulthood, intimate relationships foster creativity, productivity, and emotional integration. Moreover, intimacy has been linked to happiness, contentment, a sense of well-being, and social support. Other studies (e.g., Miller & Lefcourt, 1982) have found that intimate relationships buffer the negative impact of stress. This buffering may be due to the cathartic benefits of an intimate relationship. If someone is able to vent to another person without fear of misunderstanding or retribution, then his or her level of stress may be decreased. Recent research seems to indicate that this form of stress management is especially characteristic of women (Taylor et al., 2000).

Assessment of Intimacy
Although there is considerable literature outlining the benefits of an intimate relationship, there are few scales designed to measure this construct. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether the available scales possess adequate construct validity and whether they actually measure the main features of an intimate interaction. As discussed earlier, these features include love and affection, personal validation, trust, and self-disclosure. Currently, there are three popular scales used by researchers and counselors for this purpose: the Miller Social Intimacy Scale (MSIS; Miller & Lefcourt, 1982), the Personal Assessment of Intimacy in Relationships (PAIR; Schaefer & Olson, 1981) Scale, and the Fear of Intimacy Scale (FIS; Descutner & Thelen, 1991).

The MSIS seems to be the most popular intimacy scale reported in the literature. It was created in response to a lack of intimacy scales designed to assess the construct across various interpersonal relationships, including marriage and friendships. The MSIS was developed with college students and married couples in therapy. The MSIS measures the frequency of certain intimate behaviors and also affect experienced in relationships (Miller & Lefcourt, 1982). It was not designed, however, to assess the main features of an intimate interaction that we described earlier.

The MSIS has been found to have adequate convergent validity with several other intimacy measures, and it seems to possess satisfactory discriminant validity and excellent reliability. Although this device was constructed as a unidimensional instrument, factor analytic studies have not supported this solution. In a series of analyses with same-gender and mixed-gender dyads (i.e., 210 women and 149 men), Downs and Hillje (1991) found that the MSIS contained three or more factors that seemed to tap, for example, Other-Directed Support, Affective Support, Self-Disclosure, and Mutual Affection. Some of these factors seem to reflect the main components of intimacy discussed in the literature. Because there are serious concerns about the factor structure of the MSIS, however, one might question the construct validity of this measure.

There are also serious concerns about the construct validity of another intimacy measure, the PAIR. This instrument was constructed to assess two distinct dimensions (process and experience) of intimacy in five areas: emotional intimacy, social intimacy, sexual intimacy, intellectual intimacy, and recreational intimacy (Schaefer & Olson, 1981). Again, this measure was not developed to assess the main features of an intimate interaction that we described earlier. A factor analysis of the PAIR yielded six factors rather than the five hypothesized dimensions. Moreover, this factor solution is suspect because items loading only .20 or higher (instead of .40) were accepted for inclusion on a factor. Because of these problems, one might also question the construct validity of this measure. In contrast, adequate convergent validity, discriminant validity, and split-half reliability have been demonstrated for the PAIR. There is no information, however, on the instrument's test-retest reliability.

The third popular measure of intimacy mentioned in the literature is the FIS. This device was constructed to assess three components of fearing intimacy in a close relationship: (a) content, the actual expression of personal information; (b) emotional valence, strong feelings about the personal material articulated; and (c) vulnerability, high esteem for the intimate partner (Descutner & Thelen, 1991). Three factor analytic studies also failed to identify these three unique factors (Descutner & Thelen, 1991; Sherman & Thelen, 1996), raising serious questions about this measure's construct validity as well. Only one primary factor was obtained in these three studies, suggesting that the FIS is a unidimensional device. Test-retest reliability and internal consistency for the FIS seem to be excellent, however.

Gender Differences in Intimacy
There are potential differences in how women and men experience intimacy. In general, women and men seem to differ in their definitions of intimacy. Women seem to believe that intimacy means love, affection, and the expression of warm feelings, while men believe it to mean sexual behavior and physical closeness (Ridley, 1993). Consequently, this gender difference often leads to difficulties with intimacy in the marital relationship itself (i.e., verbal, nonverbal, sexual) as well as in dealing with this issue in clinical work. The prevailing hypothesis is that women are much more relational than men (Gilligan, 1982; Mansfield, McAllister, & Collard, 1992). They like being connected (i.e., experiencing "we-ness"), doing things together with others, and they place great emphasis on talking and emotional sharing. Gilligan pointed out that when asked to describe themselves, women tended to include information about other people, especially how they saw themselves in relation to others. In other words, a pervasive theme for women seems to be how they fit into the social world.

This relational tendency of women manifests itself in several ways within the context of marriage. First, women seem to initiate verbal intimacy with their husbands more than their husbands do with them. As Tannen (1990) reported, for women, conversations are negotiations for closeness during which people try to reach agreement and both give and receive support. Stated another way, women try to get closer to people through their discussions with them. Second, women also seem to express more empathy in their relationships than do men. If women are more attuned to other people, they would be more likely than men to develop a sense of, and understanding for, what other people are feeling. According to Tannen, men's first reaction when confronted with problematic emotions is to problem-solve, whereas women simply want understanding. It seems as though women and men are talking at cross purposes. Finally, intimate contact (e.g., affectionate touching, verbal sharing) has been demonstrated to be a stronger predictor of marital satisfaction for women than it is for men.

For men, togetherness seems to be more of an activity than a state of being, as it is for women. They favor interactions that involve "doing" rather than "being." Unlike women, men prefer to have an element of separation included in their relationships with others (Gilligan, 1982; Mansfield et al., 1992) and the "doing" orientation seems to promote this. In sharp contrast to women, men are expected to behave instrumentally and assertively and to assume positions of power. Along the same lines, Tannen (1990) theorized that many men are socialized to think act, and speak in hierarchical (i.e., one-up or one-down) ways. For them, verbal discourse is a negotiation in which they try to procure and preserve the upper hand. In other words, men are expected to preserve their independence in both actions and words.

In love relationships, such as marriage, men's struggle for independence is exhibited in the doing versus being kind of interactions. For example, in a study of married couples, Goleman (1986) found that men believed if they did things, this should be enough to show their wives they loved them. They were puzzled by their wives' need to talk things over. This doing orientation can also be found in the problem-solving approach used by men in response to emotional quandaries (Tannen, 1990). If emotions are viewed as problems to be solved, then action can be taken instead of simply discussing or trying to understand these emotions.

Despite these well-accepted assumptions, several researchers have begun to advance the proposition that research on intimacy and the mental health treatment of difficulties with intimacy have been done from a female perspective. If researchers and counselors have been listening to dialogues for indications of intimacy based on feminine relational strengths (i.e., verbal intimacy, empathic responding), they may have missed hearing or understanding the unique male voice of intimacy (Kelly & Hall, 1992; Prager, 1995; Twohey & Ewing, 1995). Boys and men seem to feel that sharing activities and interests are just as important to experiencing intimacy as are self-disclosures. Moreover, silence, telling of stories, and other active forms of expression may be men's way of expressing themselves.
- Hook, Misty, Gerstein, Lawrence, Detterich, Lacy, & Betty Gridley; How close are we? Measuring intimacy and examining gender differences; Journal of Counseling & Development; Fall 2003; Vol. 81; Issue 4.

Personal Reflection Exercise #10
The preceding section contained information about intimacy and examining gender differences.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section of the Manual in your practice.  Affix extra paper for your Journaling entries to the end of this Manual.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Quinn-Nilas, C., Goncalves, M. K., Kennett, D. J., & Grant, A. (2018). A thematic analysis of men’s sexual compliance with unwanted, non-coercive sex. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 19(2), 203–211.

Trinh, S. L., & Choukas-Bradley, S. (2018). “No messages needed—Just pats on the back”: Exploring young men’s reports of male and female friends’ sexual communications. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 19(3), 430–438. 

Valvano, A. K., Rollock, M. J. D., Hudson, W. H., Goodworth, M.-C. R., Lopez, E., & Stepleman, L. (2018). Sexual communication, sexual satisfaction, and relationship quality in people with multiple sclerosis. Rehabilitation Psychology, 63(2), 267–275.

What five areas of intimacy does PAIR assess? Record the letter of the correct answer the Test.

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