Emotional and psychological development is a life-long process tat extends beyond childhood and adolescence into early adulthood, adulthood, and old age. Young adulthood is an important developmental stage in which individuals gain an understanding of who they really are. An important aspect of this stage is the development of relationships with the opposite sex and experiences of love and intimacy. The experiences of mate selection and love are crucial elements of emotional development in young adulthood. In this discussion, emotional and psychological development in early adulthood will be investigated. The relationship between emotional development during early adulthood and the experiences of love and mate selection will also be examined. Also, the role that emotional development plays in lifestyle choices and changes that occur in adulthood will be addressed.
Development in young adulthood
One of the most comprehensive theories of emotional development in early adulthood was postulated by Erikson (Carver & Scheier, 1996). Young adulthood is the sixth stage of psycho-social development outlined by Erikson, which is followed by the stages of adulthood and old-age. Young adulthood occurs through the mid-20s, and conflict at this stage, involving the desire for intimacy vs. isolation, is experienced by individuals (Carver & Scheier, 1996). Intimacy in this context may be defined as a close relationship with someone, which involves a sense of commitment, and these relationships may be sexual or non-sexual in nature (Carver & Scheier, 1996). Erikson believed that a strong sense of identity is a prerequisite for individuals being capable of experiencing true intimacy (Carver & Scheier, 1996). Isolation, on the other hand, involves feelings of being disconnected from others and unable to commit to any relationship. Individuals can shift into isolation if present conditions are not accommodating for intimacy, and no one is available to fulfill intimacy needs (Carver & Scheier, 1996). Also, individuals may consciously withdraw into isolation for various reasons. Withdrawing may have negative consequences such as future difficulties in the establishment of intimate relationships due to self-absorption (Carver & Scheier, 1996).
Individuals need to effectively deal with the presenting conflict of a current developmental stage in order to advance onto the next stage of development. Therefore, young adults need to work out issues of intimacy vs. isolation in order to successfully leave young adulthood and graduate onto adulthood, which presents a different main conflict. Research has indicated that a necessary component for a capacity for intimacy is the achievement of a strong identity, and it has been found that this differs between men and women (Carver & Scheier, 1996). The presence of strong identities was found to be predictive of whether or not men got married, while it predicted the likelihood of a lasting marriage in women (Carver & Scheier, 1996).
Carver and Scheier (1996) describe how there are two distinguishable aspects of isolation, which are social isolation and emotional isolation. Social isolation is the failure of an individual to successfully integrate into society. On the other hand, emotional isolation is the failure to have intimacy in one's life at all. This isolation is commonly perceived as loneliness (Carver & Scheier, 1996). Emotional isolation tends to feed upon itself, as lonely individuals do not open up to others, are less responsive to the people they interact with, do not seem interested in what others have to offer, and are generally difficult to get to know (Carver & Scheier, 1996). Furthermore, intimacy and love, grounded in a strong sense of identity, form the basis for emotional development throughout early adulthood.
Intimacy and love
Intimacy is a necessary component to love, and both of these factors are a necessary part of emotional development in early adulthood. According to Sternberg (1986), love can be conceptualized as being composed of three main components, including passion, intimacy and commitment. These three components are conceptualized by Sternberg as a 'love triangle', which has passion, intimacy, and commitment as the three vertices.
Passion is defined as the motivations that result in romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation, among other factors (Sternberg, 1986). Intimacy consists of feelings of being close and connected to someone, as well as the bonding that is experienced in loving relationships (Sternberg, 1986). Finally, commitment is a conscious decision made by an individual to love someone else and put in continual effort to maintain that love (Sternberg, 1986).
Several different combinations of these components can be made to character eight types of love (Sternberg, 1986). These types of love include non-love (no passion, no intimacy, no commitment), liking (intimacy only), infatuation (passion only), empty love (commitment only), romantic love (passion and intimacy), compassionate love (intimacy and commitment), fatuous love (passion and commitment), and consummate love (passion, intimacy and commitment) (Sternberg, 1986).
Moreover, the emphasis placed on each component changes as romantic relationships in early adulthood and beyond change over time (Sternberg, 1986). Passion generally occurs at the beginning of relationships, peaks quickly and then reduces to a level of stability due to habituation (Sternberg, 1986). Intimacy peaks slower than passion does, and then, as interpersonal bonding increases, it decreases to a lower level of manifest intimacy (Sternberg, 1986). In relationships that are successful, the commitment level rises slowly at the beginning, then it speeds up, and then gradually levels off at a sustainable level (Sternberg, 1986). Early adulthood is characterized by the development of intimacy, which is necessary for the establishment of any committed relationship.
Intimacy is a multidimensional concept that has different definitions and implications depending on the individuals involved (Hook et al., 2003). There are some features that are common to most intimate interactions (Hook et al., 2003). First, there is generally a presence of love and affection among the individuals involved in an intimate interaction. This presence of love increases willingness among individuals to open up and disclose feelings. Personal validation is the second component that is common to intimate interactions. This creates an atmosphere of acceptance, which encourages individuals to open up further to their partners. The third component to intimacy is trust, which promotes safety for the disclosure of personal details and secrets. Self-disclosure is the fourth and final component to intimacy. Individuals must reveal parts of themselves in order for intimate relationships to exist. Furthermore, the level of intimacy that is achieved within a relationship appears to be dependent on the kind of information disclosed, and people tend to match their partners in how intimately they disclose information (Hook et al., 2003).
Hook et al. (2003) explain how intimacy is important on several levels. In regards to human development, one of the primary tasks of early adulthood is to deal with the conflict of intimacy vs. isolation, according to Erikson's stages of psycho-social development (Hook et al., 2003). Furthermore, young adults must meet their needs for intimacy or isolation will result, and in the absence of intimacy, individuals are unable to commit themselves to relationships, or to maintain such commitments (Hook et al., 2003).
Intimacy is also important due its intrinsic appeal, in that individuals often go to great lengths to seek it out (Hook et al., 2003). This may be due to the fulfillment of psychological requirements that results due to intimate relationships, such as the needs for love and belonging (Hook et al., 2003). Furthermore, intimacy provides a means for the avoidance of loneliness, and it generally feels good to have intimate interactions with another individual (Hook et al., 2003).
Intimacy also has a significant association with both psychological and physical well-being (Hook et al., 2003). People who do not have intimate relationships experience more symptoms related to stress, are more likely to develop illnesses, have slower recoveries from illnesses, and have a higher recurrence of illnesses (Hook et al., 2003). These individuals have also been shown to have higher rates of accidents and higher mortality rates (Hook et al., 2003). Moreover, physical, interpersonal, and emotional difficulties may ensue as a result of a lack of meaningful intimate relationships (Hook et al., 2003).
Intimate relationships are especially important to the developmental stage of early adulthood. According to Erikson, intimate relationships in this stage promote creativity, productivity, and emotional integration (Hook et al., 2003). There is a significant association between intimacy and happiness, contentment, well-being, and social support (Hook et al., 2003). The cathartic benefits of intimate relationships result in a sort of resistance to the negative impact of stress (Hook et al., 2003). Overall, it may be concluded that intimacy is a necessary component for health and well-being during the developmental stage of early adulthood and beyond.
Intimacy also has demonstrated importance in relation to satisfaction in sexual relationships (Sprecher, 2002). Sexual satisfaction has been found to be associated to relationship satisfaction, love and commitment for men and women (Sprecher, 2002). The link was found to be more robust for men than women, in that men are more likely than women to use the quality of their sexual relationship as a gage for the overall quality of the relationship, while women do not demonstrate this to the same extent…