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marriage and intimacy, and the different ways in which men and women approach these subjects. Styles of love within marriage will be outlined to give way to a more extensive discussion of emotional skills, marital intimacy, marriage stressors, and skills for opening communication, vulnerability, and finally, dealing with infidelity.
Intimacy, as defined by Baumeister and Bushman (2007), is usually thought to be the foundation of all love relationships, and is a feeling of closeness and mutual concern for one another. Robert Sternberg proposed the theory of love and its components in 1986, by using a triangle to map out the two different styles that people love each other (Baumeister, & Bushman, 2007). A relationship has three components: intimacy (a feeling of deep closeness), passion (intense attraction), and commitment (conscious decision to be together), according to Sternberg, relationship's are usually either high on intimacy and passion with low commitment, or high on intimacy and commitment while being low on passion (Baumeister, & Bushman, 2007). Although these three aspects may shift in weight over time in any given relationship, one thing is for certain is that a relationship with high intimacy and commitment will be a communal relationship that is responsive to one another's needs, emotions, and encourages a united marriage (Baumeister, & Bushman, 2007).
The needs of each person within a marriage differ, however everyone's relationship can benefit from effective communication, self-disclosure, appreciation, equality, and emotional skills (Lauer, & Lauer, 2009). Effective communication includes active listening and paying attentions to one's nonverbal communication as well (Lauer, & Lauer, 2009). Self-disclosure is extremely important (for both men and women), to be able to express their emotions, needs, fears, desires, and lifelong goals which serve to enhance intimacy and closeness (Lauer, & Lauer, 2009). Of course, appreciation and equality is very important in a marriage, where each partner can feel appreciated for what they give to the relationship and feel equal in all-important aspects of the marriage, such as decision-making.
Emotion Skills & Intimacy
Emotional skills can be defined in how a person "emotionally enacts" what they feel, i.e. If someone's feeling are hurt how do they express those emotions? (Mirgain, & Cordova, 2007) Some ways a person may express their enactments is by withdrawing, closing up, acting angry, or "self-disclosing." (Mirgain, & Cordova, 2007). Emotional skills are very important to intimacy because, depending on where each person's emotional skills are, the likelihood of getting hurt in a close and vulnerable intimate relationship is huge (Mirgain, & Cordova, 2007). According to Warren, Gee, and Cordova (2005), it is not the emotions one is having that effects the relationship, but the way in which one behaves that makes a healthy relationship. Indeed, Warren, Gee, and Cordova (2005) say, "that emotion skills, such as the ability to identify emotions, express emotions, empathize, and manage challenging emotions, are essential to the maintenance of healthy marriages." However, Mirgain and Cordova (2007) propose that correct empathetic emotion skills are not easy to come by, that one learns how to express emotions by watching other express theirs; so, a boy may learn to react outwardly angry when upset if the boy repeatedly sees his father do the same thing.
Another important skill for partners to learn is called "benign control in delivery," which essentially encompasses the way a partner might deliver a criticism or touchy subject with body language, tone of voice, and eye contract (Mirgain, & Cordova, 2007). In an example by Lauer and Lauer (2009), a married couple has two completely different approaches to conflict, where the husband is very aggressive, controlling, and outwardly emotional; his wife withdraws, shuts down, or even walks away from her husband's threatening stance, further frustrating him. This is important for marital happiness because as stated by Warren, Gee, and Cordova (2005) the more distressed a couple is the more likely they are to have disordered motions, occurrences of depression, and lower marital health compared to couples who are not distressed. Moreover, Warren, Gee, and Cordova (2005) found that negative emotions are most often perceived as more "intense" and "intimate," with a greater power of marital deterioration, compared to positive emotions, which are more often perceived as less intense and facilitates love and communication between partners.
Within marriage, the biggest obstacle that may be faced is the simple fact of gender differences. According to Warren, Gee, and Cordova (2005) and Mirgain and Cordova (2007), each of these studies showed that women have a higher capacity for showing emotion (such as happiness, sadness, love and anger) while also having an easier time recognizing emotions from others, whereas men had a more difficult time with expressing emotions but not recognizing them. Warren, Gee, and Cordova (2005) also found that marital satisfaction for men does not rely on the emotion skills the way it does for women, who usually have been raised to be emotionally superior to men in expression and recognition, and rely on this heavily when communicating. For men their wives' expression of emotion may be a disconcerting and even an alarming event that may make it hard for them to concentrate on the discussion at hand, possibly having unpleasant physiological responses to their wives' outward display (Mirgain, & Cordova, 2007).
For this reason, there is a myriad of books on communication and doing it properly, and some suggestions from Lauer and Lauer (2009) are helpful for couples trying to be more empathetic and better listeners when communicating. We have already established that emotion enactments can be either helpful or detrimental to martial happiness, depending on the type of emotions displayed. Lauer and Lauer (2009) suggest, "maintaining your perspective," which means don't pick fights or get overly emotional with issues that do not matter in the long-run. Also, do not hold resentments and keep everything bottled up, if something really is wrong it is time to speak up; it is healthier to not hold onto resentments and be open and honest, which is much less work! (Lauer, & Lauer, 2009) Another great tip is to use a technique called "de-escalating," which means that during an argument, discussion or fight where things may get heated and one partner expresses anger, the other partner "de-escalates" the event by "not becoming angry in return" and instead responds with calmness (Lauer, & Lauer, 2009). Arguments are not the only area in marriage where emotion skills are used, but also in general communication such as conversations, self-disclosure, and decision-making. Crooks and Baur (2008) has equally illuminating advice for couples seeking to improve their expressed emotions and communications styles, and some of those ways are: find some common ground to agree on, ask clarifying questions (good for arguments or making decisions), express feelings in words instead of emotional outbursts, and finally, focus on future changes that can be made the next time around.
Marriage, Stress & Intimacy
Sometimes marriage can be stressful and intimacy can get lost in the shuffles of day-to-day life. When this happens, marital satisfaction can go down, leaving each partner wondering what happened. In previous research it was thought that major stressors in life, such as moving, or a child dying, were the cause of marital satisfaction decline, but a study on daily stressors and marriage found that stress that occurs daily, or chronically, can have a much more negative impact (Harper, Schaalje, & Sandberg, 2000; Lauer, & Lauer, 2009). Also in this study, intimacy is conceptualized into five different categories of "closeness and sharing," which were emotional, social, sexual, intellectual, and recreational (Harper, Schaalje, & Sandberg, 2000). For women it seemed that daily life stressors were more of a predictor for marital happiness because, perhaps, most of the stressors the women listed were from the household and seemed closer to the marriage, whereas the men listed daily stressors that were outside the home, so perhaps seemed further from the marriage and less likely to effect it (Harper, Schaalje, & Sandberg, 2000).
There are many kinds of stressors that can affect marriage, and all marriages must face stressors and learn to deal with them in a united front. Some stressors can come from within the marriage, such as alcoholism, or deciding to apply for a promotion, whereas some stressors are external like weather events, or cultural attitudes (Lauer, & Lauer, 2009). The family cycle (birth, marriage, death) are considered expected stressors, while getting a divorce, winning a car, or being sent to war are nonnormative and unexpected stressors (Lauer, & Lauer, 2009). Daily stressors most likely would fall under chronic type events, where the stress is constantly occurring, for example a partner is constantly staying late at the office because of extra work, or the kids keep catching colds, or maybe there is always something wrong with the house that needs to be fixed (Lauer, & Lauer, 2009). These daily stresses can definitely take a toll on marriage because it seems like there is no end, and a couple can forget about being intimate or reconnecting, it becomes all about dealing with day-to-day…[continue]
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