Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Marital Enhancement through Cognitive Self-Disclosure (or Intimacy and Marriage)

One of the first working theories on what it takes to make a successful marriage was developed by Edward Waring. He is a therapist, focusing on marital intimacy. The theory, he has developed based on the study research, is that marital intimacy improves quality of the couple’s relationship and enhances the couple’s functionality as a family. And he believes that the best way to increase interpersonal intimacy is through cognitive self-disclosure.

Waring’s lists definition for intimacy, including proposed eight different dimensions in his book, published in 1988.

1. The Conflict Resolution: how easily couples can resolve differences of opinion.
2. Affection: defines the degree of emotional closeness the couple expresses.
3. Cohesion: the feeling that both couples are committed to the marriage.
4. Sexuality: how much sexual needs are communicated and fulfilled in the marriage.
5. Identity: describes the couple’s level of self-confidence and self-esteem.
6. Compatibility: the degree couples can work and play together.
7. Autonomy: defines how couples become independent from their families of origin and
their offspring.
8. Expressiveness: the degree that thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings are shared
between the partners.

When partners in a couple are really intimate with each other, they gain significantly in greater predictability in their relationship, an emotional feeling of closeness, a cognitive feeling of understanding, and their attitude changes to commitment.

Waring reports that, “intimacy is the dimension which most determines satisfaction
with relationships which endure over time”. Waring has discovered that improving the level and the depth of a couple’s cognitive self-disclosure might be the single best way to increase the level of intimacy.

Cognitive self-disclosure involves revealing one’s needs, ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and theories
regarding a relationship; it makes the partners known to each other and develops self-awareness.

To be accurate, this does not include emotional disclosure where couples reveal their feelings, which is an important factor of the couple’s well-being, but is not part of the developed theory.

Waring uses cognitive self-disclosure as the main guiding factor, because he found that when couples were experiencing problems in their marriage, their feelings towards each other flip from positive and neutral to overly negative. And when couples share their negative feelings, it commonly causes to alienation between them, growing the emotional distance and dissatisfaction from the relationship.  Therefore, the natural way to increase couple’s intimacy, which enhances emotional satisfaction in one’s marriage and improves the family functionality as a team is considered sharing the information through cognitive self-disclosure.

The scientific study has been arranged to test this theory. 24 couples were involved in this study and
they underwent the self-disclosure therapy to improve intimacy for ten weeks. Afterwards,
researchers tested how well intimacy positively correlated with marriage adjustment and confirmed the proposed theory has been validated by the outcomes.

Based on the theoretical research, Waring developed the Waring Intimacy Questionnaire (WIQ) is a 90-item self-report instrument for assessing the quality and quantity of marital intimacy.

Factors in Developing and Maintaining Intimacy

1. Differences in early socialization affect intimacy in marriage. People feel intimate when what is important to one’s self is engaged. For husbands, doing something with the wife gives them a feeling of closeness, whereas for wives, intimacy means talking about their experiences, their feelings and particularly about their marriage. This difference is noticeable in pre-adolescence. Girls form close friends with the same sex and talk about their feelings and share their “secrets,” whereas boys feel affirmed by engaging in activities with the same sex.

Often in courtship men seem to be more willing to talk in ways that build women’s sense of intimacy but after the wedding spend less time and are less willing to talk to their spouse. The degree to which both husbands and wives are able to disclose their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes are major factors in developing closeness.

2. Establishing satisfactory boundaries in marriage allows intimacy to develop. A wife who is dissatisfied with her marriage may become over-involved with her daughter when she feels her husband does not meet her needs. The husband may become over-involved in work or sports activities. As a result, the daughter, having learned that intimacy means closeness to a child and distance from the spouse, may repeat the same pattern in her marriage. A different example is of the spouse who has not fully left home. The emotional attachment or inability to be an “adult” in the family of origin precludes the couple from focusing on their relationship. They avoid intimacy by pouring their energy into solving problems with their family. To “leave and to cleave” and yet continue to have a healthy relationship with the family or origin is a challenge and task every individual must undertake.

3. A person’s level of self-confidence and self-esteem plays an important role in determining satisfactory intimacy. An individual with lower self-esteem is more dependent on others, and may soar with praise or be shattered with criticism. The expectations of a spouse with a delicate self-image may not be realistic. However, when those expectations or conditions for love are not met, the marriage degenerates into irreconcilable differences and open strife.

4. The degree to which a relationship is balanced with commitment to the marriage, development of friendship, and sexual intimacy is a further criterion for a healthy marriage. These three characteristics may vary in intensity and balance over the life of a marriage, but the most satisfactory times are those when a healthy balance is attained.

5. The spouses’ level of spiritual maturity often determines the extent to which each partner will be willing to grow and be taught. Individuals who are willing to grow spiritually are more prepared to pray that God will show them how to change instead of seeing their spouse as the source of their difficulties.

When intimacy in marriage is not achieved, often one spouse will actively pursue the other to meet expectations, while the other spouse will withdraw. Unmet expectations often lead to hurt and anger and eventually to bitterness. Spouses may finally reach an “island of invulnerability” and wrap themselves in a shell determined not to be hurt anymore. A separation may take place or the two resign themselves to live out the marriage unhappily.

Good pre-marital counseling and early interventions, particularly in the first year of marriage, are important. Patterns for marriage are most often established in the early phase and at this stage the relationship is most amenable to change.

Sources and Additional Information:

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