Copyright notice Abstract Although intimacy plays a central role in our closest relationships, we know surprisingly little about how couples handle intimacy conflicts in their daily lives.
Results from dyadic hierarchical linear modeling revealed that intimacy issues were not likely to be discussed along with other topics e. Results also indicated that intimacy conflicts were likely to be recurrent and held relatively high levels of current and long-term importance to the relationship.
Husbands and wives generally handled intimacy conflicts in constructive ways e. Among couples that included a husband with higher levels of depression symptoms, discussing intimacy in conflict in the home was associated with greater use of angry expressions and depressive expressions by both husbands and wives. The current findings enhance understanding of intimacy conflicts in naturalistic contexts and offer clinical treatment implications and future research directions.
However, despite the integral role held by intimacy processes in close relationships, we know surprisingly little about them. For example, in day-to-day life, how often do couples discuss intimacy-related issues? Are these issues co-discussed with other conflict topics, and do intimacy problems tend to recur?
To address these gaps, the current study examined the occurrence of intimacy-related marital conflict in the home, considered broadly as those disagreements dealing with sex, verbal and physical displays of affection, and closeness. We also adopted a broad perspective on marital conflict, defined here as all disagreements and differences of opinions whether handled in a mostly positive or negative way, thereby capturing a fuller understanding of how couples manage intimacy-related conflict in their daily lives.
Together, these empirical findings underscore intimacy as a process that is central to the development and maintenance of highly satisfying partnerships. Moreover, for troubled couples, intimacy conflict may be particularly problematic and recurrent: It is one of the issues that cannot be settled by partners agreeing to disagree, and the difficult work of reaching a solution can negatively affect the desire of one or both partners Schnarch, Also, clinical case studies have documented men's elevated anger during intimacy-related conflict Gehring, Whereas overall intimacy may reflect a positive component of relationships, intimacy conflicts or disagreements may be particularly difficult to handle.
Recognizing both the theoretical and applied traditions in the study of intimacy, the current study's definition of intimacy conflict encompasses any difference or disagreement concerning emotional and physical closeness as well as conflicts related to sexual desires and behaviors.
The existing literature also suggests that the likelihood of mishandling intimacy conflicts is relatively greater for some couples, particularly those challenged by a spouse's elevated depression. Intimacy conflicts are expected to pose particular challenges for affected couples, given that depressive symptomatology is associated with reduced interest and energy for sex Schweiger et al.
Extending these findings to the current diary study, associations between intimacy as a topic of conflict in the home and negative conflict expressions e. Although the question of whether particular topics affect the handling of marital conflict remains relatively understudied, recent work has shed light on intimacy-related issues. Rehman and colleagues tested differential associations between affect expressed during laboratory-based sexual e.
Wives but not husbands also rated sexual topics as more difficult and more important compared to nonsexual topics. Despite the study's small sample size, Rehman et al. Another study focused on men's views of marriage and conflict in general, and reported that most men are generally satisfied with their sex life, and one-third of the men were very satisfied Chethik, Together, these earlier findings encourage investigating intimacy as a distinct conflict topic.
The current diary method further allows direct tests of whether intimacy conflicts are distinct from, or co-occur with, other conflict topics discussed in the home. Our broad conceptualization is consistent with theoretical and empirical accounts that have described marital conflict as a multi-dimensional construct that underpins partner, relationship, and family functioning e.
It was designed to encompass the duality of intimacy described above i. Thus, accounting for overall relationship satisfaction has the potential to increase confidence that resultant findings are directly associated with the predictor of intimacy as a topic of marital conflict in the home rather than global relationship processes. In the current study, we examined intimacy as a topic in relation to other topics, conflict characteristics, and conflict expressions.
As described above, intimacy processes e. Accordingly, we expected intimacy-related conflict to be discussed relatively separate from other conflict topics discussed in the home e. In addition, conflicts concerning intimacy were predicted to be recurrent rather than new for couples in these established partnerships. We also predicted that conflicts concerning intimacy topics compared to other topics would be rated as particularly meaningful and holding greater current and long-term importance to the relationship Rehman et al.
That is, couples in which in which one or both partners evidence higher levels of depressive symptoms were expected to be particularly challenged when handling intimacy conflicts in the home. In accord with previous work that has demonstrated the centrality of intimacy to partnerships for both men and women e.
Of the husbands, 94 were Caucasian and 6 were African American. Of the wives, 93 were Caucasian, 6 were African American, and 1 was biracial. Husbands and wives had a median of Families were recruited through letters sent home with children from local schools; postcards mailed to community residents; referrals from other participating families; flyers distributed at churches and community events; and newspaper, television, and radio advertisements.
The study was approved by the university's committee for the protection of human subjects, and informed consent or assent was obtained from participating family members. Families attended two private laboratory sessions that lasted 2 to 2. Procedures relevant to the present study are described below. During the first laboratory session, husbands and wives received training on how to complete a home diary describing instances of marital conflict. Spouses then completed these diaries following each instance of marital conflict over a period of 15 days and returned the completed diaries to the second laboratory session.
During the first laboratory visit, spouses also self-reported demographic characteristics, depression symptoms, and marital adjustment. Measures Diary reports of marital conflict in the home During a day period that covered both weekdays and weekends, husbands and wives separately completed diary reports at home following each naturally-occurring instance of marital conflict.
Complete description of the diary contents and training protocol is provided in Cummings et al. For each conflict instance, spouses indicated whether the problem was new or recurrent, and rated how much current and long-term importance to the relationship it held from 0 none to 3 high.
Following Cummings, Goeke-Morey, and Papp , we created composites of conflict topics that reflected child children , social relatives, leisure, friends, chores , finance money, work , and marital habits, personality, commitment, communication issues. Intimacy was treated as a distinct topic of conflict, given the current study's central hypothesis that discussing intimacy in marital conflict in the home i.
Spouses also indicated tactics used by themselves and their partners during and at the end of marital conflict in the home, including calm discussion, withdrawal, defensiveness, support, humor, physical distress, physical affection, verbal affection, verbal hostility, nonverbal hostility, pursuit, personal insult, and problem solving.
We have previously confirmed that spouses were able to reliably identify and distinguish the tactics of interest Papp et al. For the present study, ratings of during and ending expressions were combined for analytic efficiency. Both husbands and wives contributed diaries to the current analyses; however, some of the diary variables had missing data descriptive statistics provided in Table 1.