Boosting intimacy may be more important for maintaining long-lasting romantic relationships than reducing insecurities, according to new research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
“When we think about the question ‘why do couples break up?’ what we easily and mostly think of are some ‘negative’ events and feelings such as cheating, lying, fights and insecurities,” explained study author Yoo Bin Park, a PhD student at the University of Toronto and member of the MacDonald Social Psychology Research Lab.
“However, our team has been generally interested in the important role the ‘positives,’ and in particular feelings of intimacy, play in relationship maintenance. So we decided to address that question in a prospective study with participants currently involved in a relationship.”
The researchers recruited 4,105 adults and had them complete weekly surveys regarding their relationship until they broke up. Of the initial sample, 111 participants completed a 27-day daily diary study following their breakup and 76 of these participants also completed a follow-up survey one month after the conclusion of the daily diary study.
After controlling for gender, age, and relationship length, Park and her colleagues found that perceived intimacy predicted whether or not participants continued to stay with their partner.
Specifically, participants who disagreed with statements such as “It’s interesting to learn more about my partner”, “Being with my partner gives me opportunities for personal growth”, and “I enjoy sharing things about myself with my partner” tended to have shorter relationships. This was true even when the researchers accounted for other factors such as relationship satisfaction and attachment insecurities.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that concerns about negative evaluations (“I worry about what my partner thinks about me”) did not appear to significantly predict breakups.
“Especially for anyone who is thinking ‘something’s missing in my relationship,’ I think they should take away from this study that it might be the intimate connections that they are missing and they should do something about it rather than overlooking its importance just because it doesn’t come across as serious a red flag as frequent quarrels would, for example,” Park told PsyPost.
“Oftentimes, couples drift apart not necessarily because they hate each other but because they get used to and take for granted the reward they get from connecting with their partner. Intimate connection is more than a relationship luxury and may in fact be crucial to relationship longevity, so investing some time and efforts to experiencing that will be worth it.”
The researchers also found that perceived intimacy was unrelated to postbreakup attachment to an ex-partner, which could be because of how memories function.
“Just as specific details of an event or information are lost over time and only a global meaning or summary is retained, memories from the previous relationship that are left to affect postbreakup outcomes may be a global sense of how satisfying or positive the relationship experience was rather than specific aspects of the relationship,” the researchers said.
As with any study, the new research includes some caveats.
“We didn’t look at the partner’s part of the story in this research. It’s possible that the relationship one partner considers as sufficiently intimate is not at all fulfilling the other partner’s needs for intimacy,” Park said.
“So I think it’ll be important and interesting to look at how both partners’ level of intimacy contribute to the breakup decisions — is one partner’s lack of intimacy enough to fail a relationship or would the relationship survive if there’s at least one partner perceiving enough intimacy in their relationship?”
The study, “Lack of Intimacy Prospectively Predicts Breakup“, was authored by Yoobin Park, Emily A. Impett, Stephanie S. Spielmann, Samantha Joel, and Geoff MacDonald.