Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

How Close Are We? Measuring Intimacy and Examining Gender Differences

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

How Close Are We? Measuring Intimacy and Examining Gender Differences

Article excerpt

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; Steinberg, 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 dose 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.


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; Hatfield & Rapson, 1993; Levine, 1991; Prager, 1995, 1999). …

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