People have all kinds of relationships with each other. They have parents and may have children; they have colleagues at work or school; they encounter people in all walks of life; they have friends; and they have lovers. Here we concentrate on just the last two types of partnerships, which exemplify intimate relationships.
The primary focus is on intimate relationships between adults (although we will also discuss childhood friendships sometime later).
What, then, is intimacy? The answer can depend on whom you ask, because intimacy is a multifaceted concept with several different components. However, a wide variety of people will commonly identify intimate relationships as differing from more casual associations in at least six specific ways: knowledge, caring, interdependence, mutuality, trust, and commitment.
First, intimate partners have extensive personal, often confidential, knowledge about each other. They share information about their histories, preferences, feelings, and desires that they do not reveal to most of the other people they know.
Intimate partners also care about each other, feeling more affection for one another than they do for most others.
Their lives are also intertwined: What each partner does affects what the other partner wants to do and can do. Interdependence between intimates - the extent to which they need and influence each other - is frequent (they often affect each other), strong (they have a meaningful impact on each other), diverse (they influence each other in many different ways), and enduring (they influence each other over long periods of time). When relationships are interdependent, one’s behavior affects one’s partner as well as oneself.
As a result of these close ties, people who are intimate also consider themselves to be a couple instead of two entirely separate individuals. They exhibit a high degree of mutuality, which means they recognize the overlap between their lives and think themselves as “us” instead of “me” and “her” (or “him”). In fact, that change in outlook - from “I” to “us” - often signals the subtle but significant moment in a developing relationship when new partners first acknowledge their attachment to each other.
A quality that makes these close ties tolerable is trust, the expectation that an intimate partner will treat one fairly and honorably. People expect that no undue harm will result from their intimate relationships, and
when such trust is lost, they often become wary and reduce the openness and interdependence that characterize closeness.
None of these components is absolutely required for intimacy to occur, and each may exist when the others are absent. For instance, spouses in a stale, unhappy marriage may be very interdependent, closely coordinating the practical details of their daily lives, but still live in a psychological vacuum devoid of much affection, openness, or trust. Such partners would certainly be more intimate than mere acquaintances are, but they would undoubtedly feel less close to one another than they used to (for instance, when they decided to marry), when more of the components were present.
Talk to a friend. Listen to a song. Watch a movie. At some point, the conversation, the lyrics, or the plot will probably touch on the topic of relationships. We think about relationships so much because they are a central aspect of our lives: a source of great joy when things go well, but a cause of great sorrow when they go poorly. We’re curious. Most of us want to understand how our relationships get started, how they grow, and how, sometimes, they end in a haze of anger and pain. When it comes to relationships, we are all on a lifelong voyage of discovery.
This book will promote your own process of discovery. Drawing on psychology, sociology, communication studies, and family studies, it describes what social scientists have learned about relationships through careful research. This is a different, more scientific view of relationships than you’ll find in song lyrics or the movies; it’s more reasoned, more cautious, and often less romantic. Intimacy takes many forms, and there is no magic formula for a satisfying relationship. Instead, each of us must bring his or her beliefs, values, and personal experiences to bear on the ever-developing subject. The purposes of this book are to guide you through the diverse foci of relationship science and to help you arrive at your own conclusions about relationships.
To set the stage for the discoveries to come, we ask: What are intimate relationships? Why do they matter so much? Then, we’ll consider the fundamental building blocks of close relationships: the cultures we inhabit, the experiences we encounter, the personalities we possess, the human origins we all share, and the interactions we conduct. In order to understand relationships, we must first comprehend who we are, where we are, and how we got there.