Women's Use Self-Disclosure in Interpersonal Intimate Relationships
Compared with Number and Length of Relationships They Maintain
Kalbfleisch (1993) points out that interpersonal relationships are the "cherished ingredients of our everyday social milieu." There are no substitutes according to Kalbfleisch, for the people that "we turn to in times of need, look to for comfort and companionship, laugh, cry and share our lives with throughout the cycle of our existence" (p.3).
Many researchers have exclusively examined interpersonal relationships from the perspective of communication, psychology, sociology and family studies (Kalbfleisch, 1993, p.3) because interpersonal relationships are considered the backdrop of human relationships. Many studies conducted in the past (Greenwood, 1991;,Planalp, et al., 1988, Derlega et. al, 1985) suggest and demonstrate that gender is important contextually when examining the manner in which people self-disclose particularly in initial interactions, suggesting the need for further research related to interactions other than initial ones. More studies comparing communication behavior and establishing female male or female to female patterns need be conducted. Thus this study serves to fill some of the gap related to this area of research.
The aim of this paper specifically is to examine the extent to which interpersonal relationships evolve from initial interactions between women, and in particular, how these relationships flourish or are influenced by the number of partners and length of partnership a woman shares with the object of her disclosure. The specific variables or questions that will be examined arising from this investigation include the following:
What impact if any, does the length of a relationship have on a woman's use of self-disclosure?
What impact if any, does the number of relationships a woman' has have on the use of self-disclosure?
The paper will identify the main problem to be examined, examine the theoretic expectations of the researcher related to the variables being studied, discuss the literature currently available related to the topic of self-disclosure, and lastly make recommendations for future research priorities, indicative of what research needs to be further studied with regard to the subject of women's use of interpersonal communication in relationships. The researcher will draw conclusions from information acquired via the literature review.
In general, studies suggest that women have higher levels of self-disclosure than men. When women are observed in interpersonal intimate relationships, their use and level of self-disclosure may be expected to influence variable including their level of communication satisfaction and the number and length of interpersonal relationships they maintain. What exactly however, is the relationship between self-disclosure and the number of interpersonal intimate relationships women maintain?
Englebert (2002) suggests that women can use self-disclosure to make their partner feel closer to them during conversation and interaction. Self-disclosure can take place in any number of settings including in the home, car, or in social settings. In an intimate relationship, self-disclosure is more likely to occur in a private setting between men and women. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between the length and number of relationships a women maintains as compared with her use of self-disclosure in an intimate relationship, as a gap currently exists related to research in this area.
The researcher expects that the research will reveal the extent to which women use self-disclosure to build intimacy and feelings of closeness in intimate relationships, based on the number and length of the relationships they have. Particularly, relevant to self-disclosure the chief variable that will be examined is the use of self-disclosure by women in intimate settings.
Much research has been conducted that broadly examines gender differentiation with regard to the use of self-disclosure in interpersonal relationships. The literature review will attempt to review the studies previously conducted with regard to self-disclosure and women's use of self-disclosure with respect to their familiarity with partners.
To understand why the researcher is focusing on women, one must first realize that many gender differences have been uncovered with respect to self-disclosure. Buck (1979) points out that women tend to display their emotions more outwardly than men, and men are more likely to repress their emotions than share them. Other research has suggested that women tend to be more emotional and expressive as a result of social orientation (Kelbfleisch, 1993, p.131).
Research also suggests that in general women are more likely emotionally to be expressive than men, generally display emotion more often and openly, engage in spontaneous behavior and engage in more frequent communication (Kelbfleisch, 1993, p. 112). With regard to the length of relationships, wives tend to disclose more often to their husbands, suggestive that the use of self-disclosure is more commonly utilized in longer term or close relationships (Kelbflesch, 1993, p.112).
Preliminary research suggests that women and men engage in traditional gender roles, and that women tend to self disclose more than men about non-sexual topics, whereas men are more likely to disclose in a sexual setting but less likely in general to disclose about intimate and other topics (Byers, 1999, p. 180). Moreover, Byers & Demmons identify good communication as "important to developing and maintaining a rewarding and problem free sexual relationship" citing Chesney, Blakeney, Cole & Chan, 1981. Many authors have argued that self disclosing in an intimate setting leads to greater satisfaction and fewer problems (Byers & Demmons, 1999; Russel, 1990).
Byers & Demmons further suggest that use of the GMSEX, or The Global Measure of Sexual Satisfaction survey can be used as a reliable method to support validity of arguments that self-disclosure is critical to the advancement of intimate relationships for women (Lawrance & Byers, 1998).
The survey attempts to elicit information with regard to the level of disclosure individuals are willing to share with their partner.
A study conducted by Miller and Kenny (1986) shows that generally women in long-term relationships demonstrate a higher level of self-disclosure, and that self-disclosure is reciprocated, when compare to women in short-term relationships. Correlations between length of acquaintance are positive suggesting that self reported disclosure "is a relational value" that tends to increase based on the length of a relationship a woman has with an intimate partner, regardless of the number of partners she has had or has (Erber & Gilmour, 1994, p. 120).
Gilmour & Erber (1994) also suggests that a variable such as self-disclosure operates in the same was as affect meaning that "it has large amounts of relationship variance and high levels of reciprocity" then the variable "is likely to be highly tied to affect" (p.119).
SUMMARY OF LITERATURE
From a social relations framework Miller and Kenny (1986), Reno & Kenny (1992) and Montgomery (1984) study the affects of length of a relationship or familiarity on the likelihood of self-disclosure (Erber & Gilmour, 1994). The results suggest that relationship cannot be "unequivocally" described as the primary component related to intimate self-disclosure, but rather that disclosure sometimes varies from person to person, and dependent upon whether a sing person is disclosing to an individual or a group.
The studies do suggest that low intimacy subjects are more freely discussed by women without regard to the length or number of relationships (Erber & Gilmour, 1994, p. 120).
At this time it would be premature to characterize self-disclosure as directly related to the number and length of relationships a woman has, because the number of studies directly addressing this subject are limited.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE
Ross & Lollis (1989) point out that "to demonstrate that people are relating to one another, one must show that there is relationship variance" (Erber & Gilmour, 1994, p. 125). The research preliminarily investigated suggests that researchers have focused too closely on certain aspects of relationships including socio-emotional components and the nature of intense relationships, without exploiting in great detail the relevance of intimacy and length of relationships to communication (Erber & Gilmour, 1994).
Further studies on interpersonal relationships may help provide insight into additional stages of human development (Kalbfleisch, 1993, p.47). The work conducted to this point suggest that further understanding of communication behavior in stages of a relationship is possible. Among the uses of interpersonal communication that can be explored in greater detail include the desire to obtain more personal information.
Research confirms that women tend to disclose more than men, and that women more frequently receive disclosure than men do (Dolgin & Minowa, 1997). Studies also suggest that females are more likely to disclose to other females in intimate and non-intimate relationships than they are likely to disclose to men, and that men are less likely than women to disclose about topics in general, including intimate ones (Dolgin & Minowa, 1997). There is currently little data that specifically addresses the number and length of relationships as influencing the use of self-disclosure by women however. The research uncovered for purposes of this study suggests that women are more likely to use self-disclosure to build intimacy when they have established longer term relationships. There does not appear to be adequate information with regard to the number of relationships a woman has at this time, thus…