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Degree of Closeness in Relationships Less Important Than One Might Think


While conventional wisdom dictates that the quality of a romantic relationship is directly tied to the level of closeness the couple experiences, a new study shows that it might be more complicated then that.

Researchers have found that it’s not how close a person feels to his or her partner that determines the quality of the relationship. Instead, it’s the level of satisfaction each partner feels about the degree of closeness in the relationship that matters most.

“Our study found that people who yearn for a more intimate partnership and people who crave more distance are equally at risk for having a problematic relationship,” the study’s lead author, David M. Frost, PhD, a psychologist and professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told Science Daily in an interview. “If you want to experience your relationship as healthy and rewarding, it’s important that you find a way to attain your idealized level of closeness with your partner.”

The results of the study will be published online on 13 February 2013 and in the April 2013 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The researchers involved in the study had 732 men and women from across the U.S. and Canada fill out three annual surveys online, answering questions about relationship closeness, relationship satisfaction, commitment, break-up thoughts, and symptoms of depression. They then analyzed the data to find degrees of closeness within the participants’ relationships, using the standard psychological measure of closeness known as “Inclusion of Other in Self” to determine each couples’ shared identity, values, viewpoints, resources, and personality traits.

The results showed that 57 percent of the respondents reported feeling too much distance themselves and their partners, while 37 percent were satisfied with the level of closeness in their relationships. Only 5 percent of participants reported feeling too close to their partners. The degree of difference between a respondent’s ideal and actual closeness, known as “closeness discrepancy,” was directly proportional to the overall quality of the relationship and frequency of depression. This was equally true of those who reported feeling too close to their partners and those who desired more closeness in their relationships.

Those respondents who reported feeling greater degrees of satisfaction in the level of closeness in their relationships also reported improved relationship quality and mental health, while those who either felt too close or not close enough to their partners were more likely to report decreased mental health and relationship quality. Those least happy with the degrees of closeness in their relationships were also most likely to end their relationships.

According to Dr. Frost, the study’s findings will aid psychotherapists in creating new approaches to couples’ therapy by taking into account the differences in the desired level of connectedness and the actual degree of connectedness a couple experiences.

“It’s best not to make too many assumptions about what constitutes a healthy relationship,” he says. “Rather, we need to hear from people about how close they are in their relationships and how that compares to how close they’d ideally like to be.”

Future research may focus on similar issues related to closeness in parent-child, patient-provider, and co-worker relationships.



  1. “We’re Emotionally Distant and That’s Just Fine by Me: Closer Relationships Aren’t Necessarily Better Relationships.”  Science Daily.  13 February 2013.  Web.  13 February 2013.


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Filed under: Love and Relationships · Tags: Closeness, closeness and relationships, healthy relationships, mental health and relationship, positive relationships, relationships is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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