Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Disclosure and Relationship Satisfaction in Families

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Disclosure and Relationship Satisfaction in Families

Article excerpt

The present study developed a theoretical framework for understanding the social mechanisms underlying disclosure and its link with relationship satisfaction in a full family design. A study among 262 intact families, consisting of 2 children and 2 adults and involving 1,048 individuals, applied the social relations model. Results showed that disclosure vas more important to satisfaction in horizontal relationships than vertical ones. Further, relationship-specific disclosure was more important to satisfaction than dispositional disclosure. These results have implications for the examination of relationship regulation and maintenance in (non)voluntary relationships and the development of psychosocial problems in parentchild relationships.

Key Words: communication, disclosure, family, relationship satisfaction.

Disclosure is at the heart of most relationships (e.g., Rubin, 1973). People strategically disclose information about themselves to develop and maintain relationships (e.g., Canary, Stafford, Hause, & Wallace, 1993). Greater disclosure in relationships is related to greater emotional involvement (e.g., Rubin, Hill, Peplau, & DunkelSchetter, 1980), liking (Collins & Miller, 1994), feelings of intimacy (Laurenceau, Feldman Barrett, & Pietromonaco, 1998), and relationship satisfaction (Derlega, Metts, Petronio, & Margulis, 1993). In fact, disclosure and indicators of relationship quality seem so intertwined that Derlega and his colleagues called disclosure and relationships "mutually transformative" (p. 9). Disclosure affects the definition and quality of the relationship, which in turn affect the content, meaning, and impact of disclosure.

Most theorists agree that disclosure should be conceptualized as a multifaceted social process that combines both dispositional and relational aspects (Dindia, Fitzpatrick, & Kenny, 1997). Further, as a general rule, more disclosure should be associated with more liking for the discloser (Collins & Miller, 1994). It remains unclear, however, whether dispositional aspects (we like people who disclose a lot) or relational aspects (we like people who disclose to us) of disclosure are responsible for the link between disclosure and relationship quality (Derlega et al., 1993). Further, little is known about whether findings on disclosure and the link between disclosure and quality of relationships in one type of relationship generalize to other relationships. The present study aims to enhance our understanding of disclosure, satisfaction, and their relation in families.


Disclosure refers to the verbal communication of information about the self, including personal states, dispositions, events in the past, and plans for the future (Jourard, 1971). Research confirms that disclosure can be conceptualized as both a person's disposition to disclose (Jourard; Miller, Berg, & Archer, 1983) and as a dynamic process between two partners in a unique relational context (e.g., Dindia, 1994; Laurenceau et al., 1998). To illustrate, Dindia and her colleagues (1997) applied social relations modeling, a statistical tool developed to analyze dyadic data (Kenny & La Voie, 1984), to examine disclosure in adult relationships. Their results revealed that the level of disclosure in a relationship is a function of both partners' disposition to disclose (i.e., their typical baseline of disclosure), both partners' disposition to elicit disclosure from others, and their unique relationship (i.e., wives disclosed more to their husbands than to a stranger). Further, a dyadic reciprocity effect of disclosure emerged: Partners who disclosed more to others also received more disclosure from others (Jourard). Thus, by applying social relations modeling to dyadic relationships between adults, this study elegantly showed that dispositional and relational processes are simultaneously at work in disclosure in relationships. …

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