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Sex Roles, Vol. 43, Nos. 3/4, 2000
Psychological Intimacy in the Lasting Relationships
of Heterosexual and Same-Gender Couples
Richard A. Mackey,
Matthew A. Diemer, and Bernard A. O’Brien
This research focused on the meaning of psychological intimacy to partners
in heterosexual and same-gender relationships that have lasted for an average
of 30 years. In-depth interviews were used to explore the meaning of intimacy
to 216 partners in 108 relationships. The participants were whites, blacks,
and Mexican-Americans, with Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant religious
backgrounds; they were employed in both blue- and white collar occupations.
Psychological intimacy was deﬁned as the sense that one could be open
and honest in talking with a partner about personal thoughts and feelings
not usually expressed in other relationships. Factors that had a signiﬁcant
role in shaping the quality of psychological intimacy in the last 5 to 10 years
of these relationships (recent years) were the absence of major conﬂict, a
confrontive conﬂict management style between partners, a sense of fairness
about the relationship, and the expression of physical affection between
partners. Women in same-gender relationships, compared to their heterosex-
ual and gay counterparts, were more likely to report that psychologically
intimate communication characterized their relationships. The ﬁndings are
important for understanding factors that contribute to psychological intimacy
in long-term relationships and how the gender roles of partners may shape
the quality of psychological intimacy in heterosexual and same-gender rela-
This paper explores the meaning of psychological intimacy from the
perspectives of 216 partners in 108 heterosexual and same-gender relation-
ships that have lasted an average of 30 years. The paper adds to the existing
literature on relational intimacy. Most previous studies of intimacy have
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Graduate School of Social Work, Boston
College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02167-3807. Fax: (617) 552-6190; URL: www2.bc.edu/
~mackey; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
0360-0025/00/0800-0201$18.00/0 2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation
202 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
sampled younger participants in relationships that have not lasted as long
as those in this study. Our research focused on the meaning of psychological
intimacy among partners in middle and old age. In contrast to the white,
middle class samples utilized in many studies, we focused on couples in
long-term relationships who were diverse in terms of race, educational
level, and sexual orientation. Most research on relational intimacy has
employed quantitative methodology; we used in-depth interviews to explore
the meaning of psychological intimacy from the perspective of each partner
in these relationships.
The research on which this paper is based started 10 years ago and
was conducted in two phases. In phase one we focused on qualitative
analysis of data from 216 in-depth interviews of spouses in 108 heterosexual
and same-gender relationship (Mackey & O’Brien, 1995; Mackey,
O’Brien & Mackey, 1997). In the second or current phase, we recoded the
interview data so as to analyze them from both a qualitative and quantita-
The goal of the paper is to develop an understanding of factors that
contributed to reported psychological intimacy in recent years, deﬁned
as the last 5 to 10 years of these relationships. The paper addresses the
1. What does being psychologically intimate mean to individual part-
ners (i.e., participants) in heterosexual, lesbian and gay male rela-
tionships that have lasted for many years?
2. What factors are associated with the quality of psychological inti-
macy during the recent years of these relationships?
The paper is organized as follows: Perspectives on deﬁning psychologi-
cal intimacy are discussed, which is followed by a review of recent empirical
studies of intimacy, and the theoretical framework for the current study.
The research methodology of the current study is summarized. A deﬁnition
of psychological intimacy, the dependent variable, based on the reports of
participants is presented, followed by the deﬁnitions of the independent
variables that contributed to reported psychological intimacy in recent
years. The ﬁndings are presented, including a chi-square analysis of those
variables related signiﬁcantly to psychological intimacy in recent years,
correlations of the independent variable with the dependent variables, a
logistic regression analysis of factors that contribute to psychological inti-
macy in recent years, and an examination of the qualitative data that help
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 203
to clarify the effects of gender and sexual orientation on psychological
intimacy during recent years. The limitations of the research are then
discussed. The paper ends with a summary and conclusion.
Deﬁning Psychological Intimacy
Despite the widespread attention in the professional literature to stud-
ies of intimate behavior, there has been little agreement about the meaning
of intimacy in human relationships. Any attempt to deﬁne intimacy in a
meaningful way must attend to various perspectives on the subject as well
as clarify the potential linkages between differing perspectives. In addition,
the meaning of intimacy must be differentiated from related concepts, such
as communication, closeness, and attachment (Prager, 1995). If we are to
be meaningful, not to mention relevant to human relationships in general,
Prager cautions that any deﬁnition of intimacy needs to be compatible with
everyday notions about the meaning of psychological intimacy. Because of
the contextual and dynamic nature of relationships over time, however, a
simple and static deﬁnition of intimacy is probably ‘‘unobtainable’’
Components of Psychological Intimacy
Summarizing a large body of research, Berscheid and Reis (1998)
Intimacy has been used variously to refer to feelings of closeness and affection
between interacting partners; the state of having revealed one’s innermost thoughts
and feelings to another person; relatively intense forms of nonverbal engagement
(notably, touch, eye contact, and close physical proximity); particular types of
relationships (especially marriage); sexual activity; and stages of psychological matu-
ration (p. 224).
Most frequently, intimacy has been used synonymously with personal
disclosure (Jourard, 1971) which involves ‘‘putting aside the masks we wear
in the rest of our lives’’ (Rubin, 1983, p. 168). To be intimate is to be open
and honest about levels of the self that usually remain hidden in daily life.
The extent of personal disclosure is proportionate to how vulnerable one
allows oneself to be with a partner in revealing thoughts and feelings which
are not usually apparent in social roles and behaviors of everyday life.
Intimacy also has been thought of as companionship (Lauer, Lauer &
Kerr, 1990) and has been associated with emotional bonding (Johnson,
1987). Others have deﬁned intimacy as a process which changes as relation-
204 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
ships mature (White, Speisman, Jackson, Bartos & Costos, 1986). Schaefer
and Olson (1981) considered intimacy to be a dynamic process which in-
cluded emotional, intellectual, social, and cultural dimensions.
Helgeson, Shaver, and Dyer (1987) asked individuals to describe in-
stances where they had experienced feelings of intimacy with members of
the same and opposite gender. Self-disclosure, physical contact, sexual
contact, sharing activities, mutual appreciation of the other, and warmth
emerged as the major themes. Sexual and physical contact were mentioned
frequently in describing intimacy in heterosexual relationships, but rarely
mentioned in describing relationships with members of one’s own gender.
Participants’ deﬁnitions were not speciﬁc to either romantic or platonic
relationships, so it is difﬁcult to delineate what components of intimacy
apply to different types of relationship.
Monsour (1992) examined conceptions of intimacy in same- and oppo-
site-gender relationships of 164 college students. Self-disclosure was the
most salient characteristic of intimacy, followed by emotional expressive-
ness, unconditional support, shared activities, physical contact, and lastly,
sexual contact. It is important to note that the low ranking of sexual contact
in this study may have been due to participants describing platonic, rather
than romantic, relationships. This study also focused (like others) on short
term relationships of young adults.
In studying the characteristics of relationships that had lasted an aver-
age of 30 years Mackey, O’Brien and Mackey (1997) reported that sense
of psychological intimacy emerged as a signiﬁcant predictor of satisfaction
between partners. Across same- and opposite-gender couples, participants
described intimacy as the verbal sharing of inner thoughts and feelings
between partners along with mutual acceptance of those thoughts and
Relatively little is known about nonverbal communication as an aspect
of intimacy. Prager (1995) suggested that a glance or a touch may have
great meaning between partners because of the mutual recognition of
shared, albeit unspoken, experiences. However, ‘‘it is less well known how
nonverbal factors inﬂuence the development of intimacy in ongoing rela-
tionships’’ (Berscheid & Reis, 1998). It appears reasonable to assume,
however, that metacommunications in the form of nonverbal messages
must be congruent with the exchange of words, if a sense of psychological
intimacy is to develop and be sustained between two individuals. At a
minimum, metacommunications at a behavioral level cannot undermine or
contradict words that may be used to enhance a sense of psychological
intimacy between partners in a meaningful relationship.
Sexual involvement between partners in a relationship is another aspect
of intimacy. The phrase ‘‘intimate relationship’’ has been equated with
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 205
sexual activity in several studies (Swain, 1989). In a study of the meanings
associated with close and intimate relationships among a sample of college
students, 50%of the participants referred to sexual involvement as the
characteristic that distinguished intimate from close relationships (Parks &
Floyd, 1996). As mentioned earlier, Helgeson, Shaver, and Dyer (1987)
also found that participants in their research associated intimacy with sex-
Although studies tend to support the observations of Berschid and
Reis (1998) regarding the components of intimacy, a signiﬁcant issue in
studies of intimacy is the failure to control for relationship type, the effects
of gender, and relationship duration. All of these factors impact how inti-
macy is perceived and manifested by partners.
Gender and Intimacy
Intimate communication may be experienced differently by men and
women. According to Prager (1995), ‘‘few contextual variables have been
studied more than gender, and few have been found more likely to affect
intimate behavior’’ (p. 186). In part, differences based on gender may be
attributed to developmental experiences. What it is to be psychologically
intimate in friendships and romantic relationships may be quite different
to each gender, since males and females have been socialized to adopt
different roles (Julien, Arellano, & Turgeon, 1997). Traditionally, males
were prepared for the ‘‘breadwinner’’ role, while females were socialized
‘‘in ways that foster their abilities to maintain the emotional aspects of
family life’’ (p. 114). Macoby (1990) catalogued some of the interpersonal
behaviors that men may learn through socialization: competitiveness, assert-
iveness, autonomy, self-conﬁdence, instrumentality, and the tendency to
not express intimate feelings. Noller (1993) described some of the behaviors
women may learn through socialization: nurturance, emotional expressivity,
verbal exploration of emotions, and warmth. As a consequence, men may
experience intimacy through shared activities and women experience inti-
macy through verbal self-disclosure and shared affect (Markman & Kraft,
1989). Changing cultural values toward androgyny in child-rearing and
adult relationships are having a signiﬁcant impact on gender roles today,
and may be changing the meaning of intimacy for males and females in
heterosexual and same-gender relationships (Levant, 1996).
In a self-report survey by Parks and Floyd (1996), 270 college students
were asked what made their same- and cross-gender friendships close and
how this closeness was expressed. Across same- and different-gender friend-
ships the authors ‘‘found no support for hypotheses suggesting that women
206 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
or those with a feminine gender role identiﬁcation would label their friend-
ship as ‘intimate’ more than men or people with a more masculine gender
role identiﬁcation’’ (p. 103). The ﬁndings of Parks and Floyd support their
argument that ‘‘sharp sex (sic) differences in interpersonal behavior has
always been scant’’ (p. 90). While helpful, this research, like many studies
of intimacy, was conducted with a young adult and homogeneous sample
that were reporting primarily on short-term relationships.
The extent to which men and women deﬁne and express intimacy
differently remains ambiguous, not unlike the concept itself. Men may
value shared activities as an instrumental means to experiencing relational
connectedness that may lead to a sense of psychological intimacy, while
women may place greater value on sharing thoughts and feelings about
themselves. Even if these processes differentiate the meaning of intimacy
to men and women, they cannot account for temperamental, contextual, or
intervening factors in relationships at different points over their life spans.
Sexual Orientation and Intimacy
Research focused on qualities in the relationships of same-gender
partners has been reported in the professional literature over the past two
decades. Peplau (1991) observed that ‘‘research on gay male and lesbian
relationships dates mainly from the mid-1970’s’’ (p. 197).
Studies have found no signiﬁcant differences between gay males and
lesbians on measures of dyadic attachment and personal autonomy within
relationships (Kurdek & Schmitt, 1986; Peplau, 1991). High dyadic attach-
ment and low personal autonomy have been associated with the quality
of relationships, a positive aspect of which was effective communication.
Research on the quality of communication in same-gender relationships has
been, however, inconclusive. Some studies have found emotional distancing
(Levine, 1979) and impaired communication (George & Behrendt, 1987)
between gay male partners. Perhaps, those characteristics of gay male rela-
tionships suggest gender differences, rather than differences based on sexual
orientation. That is, males may experience comfort in valuing separateness
and autonomony in relationships, whether or not they are gay or straight,
a hypothesis originally proposed by Gilligan (1982) in her studies of gender
differences. In gay male relationships, distancing may become mutually
reinforcing and lead to impaired communication between partners.
There has been much discussion over fusion in lesbian relationships
based on hypotheses that have emerged from women’s developmental
research. Fusion, as an element in lesbian relationships (Burch, 1982),
has been characterized by high levels of self disclosure between partners
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 207
(Slater & Mencher, 1991). Elsie (1986) found that lesbian partners tended
to merge emotionally, as compared to gay male partners who maintained
emotional distance from each other. Mackey, O’Brien and Mackey (1997)
found that a sample of lesbian couples together for more than 15 years
valued autonomy within attachment and rejected the idea of fusion in their
relationships. Although these discrepancies may reﬂect gender differences
within the context of these committed relationships, they may also be
affected by how attachment and autonomy were deﬁned operationally and
how they were measured in these studies. Moreover, there is the issue of
clarifying self-disclosure, fusion, and differentation as elements in psycho-
logical intimacy, especially in lesbian relationships.
The achievement of a sense of equity has been associated with mutual-
ity in decision-making among heterosexual and same-gender couples (How-
ard, Blumstein, & Schwartz, 1986), and equity has been identiﬁed as a
central value in relationships that last, especially in those of lesbians (Kur-
dek, 1988; Schneider, 1986). When partners in a relationship have felt
relatively equal in their capacity to inﬂuence decisions, decision-making
has been characterized by negotiation and discussion (DeCecco & Shively,
1978). Fairness in decision-making over roles, household responsibilities,
and ﬁnances have been linked to relational satisfaction and potentially to
perceptions of psychological intimacy.
In a recent study, Kurdek (1998) compared relational qualities among
heterosexual, gay male, and lesbian couples at 1-year intervals over a 5-
year period. These qualities were levels of intimacy, autonomy, equity,
ability to constructively problem-solve, and the ability barriers to leave the
relationship. Of particular interest to our research were the scales that
purported to measure ‘‘intimacy.’’ Although there were many similarities
between the three groups on other measures of relational quality (i.e.,
problem-solving and conﬂict management styles), lesbians reported ‘‘higher
levels of intimacy than partners in heterosexual relationships’’ (p. 564).
That ﬁnding resonates with other research on intimacy in relationships and
has been attributed to the relational orientation of women. The valuing of
mutuality rather than of autonomy within relationships (Surrey, 1987), may
nurture the development of psychological intimacy in women’s relation-
The Signiﬁcance of Psychological Intimacy to Well-Being
Apart from its heuristic value in understanding loving relationships,
psychological intimacy is important to an individual’s well-being. Prager
(1995) summarized the research on the positive effects of being involved
208 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
in psychologically intimate relationships. Citing several investigations by
college students of Nazi Holocaust survivors, Prager argued for the beneﬁts
to well-being: individuals are able to share their thoughts and feelings about
stressful events and receive support by someone who cares. Openness within
a meaningful relationship has been found to reduce stress, enhance self-
esteem and -respect, and reduce symptoms of physical and psychological
impairment. Conversely, studies of isolated individuals unable to engage
in relationships that promote openness and disclosure of inner thoughts
and feelings are at risk for developing physical and psychological symptoms.
Drawing from several studies, Prager concluded that ‘‘even people with
sizable social networks are likely to develop symptoms of psychological
disturbance in the face of stressful events if they lack conﬁding relation-
ships.’’ (pp. 2–3).
A THEORETICAL FRAME WORK
Our efforts to identify components of psychologically intimacy in a
relationship underscored the complexity of the concept and the importance
of being as precise as possible in developing an operational deﬁnition of
it in our research. The deﬁnition that was developed (see Method section)
was framed within the context of other contiguous dimensions of these
relationships (e.g., equity, decision-making, and conﬂict-management
In this framework, psychological intimacy referred to the meaning
associated with relational experiences, as reported in participants’ inter-
views. Operationally, psychological intimacy was deﬁned as the sense that
one could be open and honest in discussing with a partner personal thoughts
and feelings not usually expressed in other relationships. This concept of
intimacy is different from actual observations of verbal and nonverbal
interactions, which may contribute (or not contribute) over time to an inner
sense of being psychologically intimate in relationships. The focus of our
research was on inner psychological themes (i.e., schemas of intimacy) as
reported by participants, which were assumed to be contingent on the
quality of speciﬁc relational experiences between partners.
Based on our review of the literature on the meaning and experience
of psychological intimacy, we suggest that any approach to understanding
this important dimension of relationships must consider four interrelated
components: proximity, openness, reciprocity, and interdependence of part-
ners. These elements must be assessed at different points over the life-
span of individuals and within the context of culture. For example, these
components may have a different signiﬁcance for older couples who have
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 209
been together for many years, such as those in this study, compared to
couples who are at the beginning of a loving relationship. The meaning
and expression of psychologically intimate communication may also vary
between ethnic and racial groups, males and females, and partners in hetero-
sexual and same-gender relationships. Given the potential connections be-
tween physical and psychological well-being, the quality of relationships and
the demographic reality of an aging population, research into psychological
intimacy among a diverse group of older heterosexual and same-gender
couples is timely.
A semistructured interview format was developed and pretested by
the researchers. The resulting interview guide consists of focal questions
that were designed to elicit how participants viewed several dimensions of
their relationships. Collaborative researchers conducted additional pilot
testing and provided feedback that led to further reﬁnement of the inter-
The guide, which was used in all interviews, was divided into four
sections: the participant’s relationship; social inﬂuences, including economic
and cultural factors; the relationships of the parents (all participants had
been reared by heterosexual parents); and experiences of participants and
views of their relationships from the early to recent years. The ‘‘recent
years,’’ the focus of this paper, can be categorized as the last 5 to 10 years
prior to the interviews. The ‘‘early years’’ are the years prior to the birth
of the ﬁrst child for couples who had children, or the ﬁrst 5 years for those
without children or who adopted children after being together for 5 years.
The interview structure was designed to acquire in-depth information
from the point of view of individual participants, to develop an understand-
ing of how each partner adapted over the life span of their relationships.
An open-ended style of interviewing allowed for freedom of expression,
to elicit information from the perspectives of participants about interactions
with partners. The approach, which adapted clinical interviewing skills to
the needs of the research, explored the experiences of individuals within
relationships as they remembered and reported them.
The interviewers, advanced doctoral students with extensive clinical
experience, were trained in the use of the interview guide. They were
respectful and accepting of the uniqueness of each participant’s perceptions.
Their empathic interviewing skills were a valuable resource in collecting
the data (Hill, Thomson & Williams, 1997).
The interviews were held in the participants’ homes, which provided
210 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
additional information about lifestyles and environments. Prior to each
interview, participants were told about the purpose of the study, given an
overview of the interview schedule, and assured their identities would
remain anonymous. Informed consent for audiotaping and the use of inter-
views for research were obtained. Each partner was interviewed separately;
the length of each of the interviews was approximately 2 hours.
Couples were recruited through business, professional, and trade union
organizations, as well as through churches, synagogues, and a variety of
other community organizations. Most couples resided in the northeast part
of the country.
The sample was chosen purposively to ﬁt with the goal of developing
an understanding of a diverse and older group of heterosexual and same-
gender couples in lasting relationships. Couples were recruited who met
the following criteria:
1. They were married or in a committed same-gender relationship for
at least 15 years.
2. They were diverse in race/ethnicity, education, religious back-
ground, and sexual orientation.
Of the 216 partners who were interviewed, 76%were white and 24%
were people of color (African-Americans and Mexican-Americans). The
religious background of the couples was as follows: 46%were Protestant;
34%were Catholic; and 20%were Jewish. Fifty-six percent were college
graduates and 44%were non-college graduates. The mean age for the
sample was 57 years (SD ⫽10.24): 27%of participants were in their 40s,
33%in their 50s, 26%in their 60s, and 14%in their 70s. Sixty-seven percent
of couples were heterosexual and 33%in same-gender relationships. The
mean number of years shared together was 30.22 (SD ⫽10.28): 18%of
couples had been together 40 years or longer; 29%between 30 and 39
years; 34%between 20 and 29 years; and 19%less than 20, but more than
15 years. Seventy-seven percent of the couples had children; 23%did not
have children. By total gross family income, 7%of couples earned less
than $25,000; 25%between $25,000 and $49,999; 29%between $50,000 and
$74,999; and 39%had gross incomes of $75,000 or more.
Each interview was tape-recorded and transcribed to facilitate coding
and prepare the data for both quantitative and qualitative analysis. Inter-
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 211
view passages were coded for relational themes, which were then developed
into categories (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
Initially, a research team (two women, two men) coded eight transcrip-
tions blindly and individually. Detailed notes were kept and categories
were generated. A relationship coding sheet was developed and used in
subsequent coding of eight additional interviews. As new categories arose,
previous interviews were recoded in keeping with the constant comparative
process. Having both genders involved in that process helped control for
gender bias and contributed to the development of a shared conceptual
analysis. A scoring system was developed to identify themes that evolved
from each section of the interviews. There were over 90 categories in 24
topic areas for every participant.
Once the Relationship Coding Sheet was developed, each interview
was coded and scored independently by two raters (one male, one female),
who noted themes and categories as they emerged from the transcripts.
One of the authors coded all 216 interviews to ensure continuity in the
operational deﬁnitions of variables and consistency of judgments from case
to case. The agreement between raters, determined by dividing the number
of identical judgments by the total number of codes, was 87%. Cohen’s
kappa, used as a measure of interrater reliability, ranged from .79 to .93.
When discrepancies occurred the raters met to discuss their differences
and to re-examine the original transcripts until a consensus was reached
on how a particular item was to be scored.
HyperResearch software (Hesse-Biber, Dupuis, & Kinder, 1992) en-
abled the researchers to perform a thorough content analysis of interview
transcripts (totalling over 8,000 double-spaced pages) and identify, cata-
logue, and organize speciﬁc interview passages on which categorical codes
In the second or current phase of the study, we re-examined the codes
so as to prepare the data for quantitative analysis. Many variables were
re-coded into dichotomous categories. For example, psychological intimacy
was originally coded into three categories (positive, mixed, and negative).
Because we were interested in understanding factors that contributed to
psychological intimacy during recent years, the positive category was re-
tained and compared with a recoded mixed/negative category. Vignettes
from the transcripts are used in the following pages to illustrate the meaning
of psychological intimacy to participants during recent years.
The coded data from the scoring sheets yielded frequencies that were
analyzed using SPSS software. Chi-square analysis was used to examine the
212 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
relationship between the independent variables—which included personal,
demographic, and participants’ reports of various dimensions of relation-
ships—and the dependent variable of psychological intimacy in recent years
(see Table I). The Alpha criterion was set at .01 for the chi-square analysis.
The chi-square statistic seemed appropriate, since certain conditions
were met. First, it has been very difﬁcult to ensure randomness of samples
in social and behavioral research, especially in studies that focus on new
territory. This nonprobability sample was selected deliberately to include
older couples who have been understudied in previous research—namely,
heterosexual and same-gender relationships that had lasted an average of
30 years. The goal was to identify factors that contributed to satisfaction
from the perspectives of individual partners rather than to test hypotheses.
Table I. Psychological Intimacy During Recent Years by Independent Variables (Row
Independent Variables Mixed/Negative Positive %Totals
Male .45 .55 100
Female .37 .63 100 1.46
Gender orientation of couples
Heterosexual .49 .51 100
Lesbian .21 .79 100
Gay Males .29 .71 100 12.93*
Negative .54 .46 100
Positive .09 .91 100 54.02*
%Minimal .19 .81 100
%Major .57 .43 100 20.05*
Conﬂict management style of partner
%Avoidant .39 .61 100
%Confrontive .15 .85 100 15.63*
%Separate .54 .46 100
%Mutual .20 .80 100 14.98*
%No .58 .42 100
%Yes .17 .83 100 28.88*
%Negative .39 .72 100
%Positive .12 .93 100 16.81*
Importance of sex
%Not important .42 .58 100
%Important .19 .81 100 11.15*
%No/mixed .44 .56 100
%Yes .10 .90 100 35.52*
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 213
Second, compared to other tests of statistical signiﬁcance, chi-square has
fewer requirements for population characteristics. Third, the expected fre-
quency of ﬁve observations in most table cells was met.
To assess the strength of the associations between psychological inti-
macy and the independent variables, a correlation analysis was conducted.
Because of the dichotomous nature of the variables, a phi coefﬁcient was
computed for the dependent variable and each independent variable (see
Variables that had been related signiﬁcantly to psychological intimacy
in the chi-square analysis and identiﬁed in previous studies as having impor-
tance to understanding psychological intimacy were selected for building
a theoretical model. Based on the phi coefﬁcients, communication was not
included in the model (see next section). Two models were tested using
logistic regression: one model included the sexual orientation of couples
(heterosexual, lesbian, and gay males), the other substituted gender (male
and female) for the sexual orientation of couples. Logistic regression was
a useful tool in this exploratory research, where the goal was to develop
theory rather than test it (Menard, 1995).
TOWARD A DEFINITION OF PSYCHOLOGICAL INTIMACY
The dependent variable was psychological intimacy. Participants talked
of experiencing psychological intimacy when they were able to share their
inner thoughts and feelings they felt to be accepted, if not understood,
by the partner. Such experiences were associated with feelings of mutual
connection between partners. When participants talked of being psychologi-
Table II. Phi Coefﬁcients: Psychological Intimacy During Recent Years by Independent
Independent Variables Coefﬁcients Signiﬁcance
Gender .03 .67
Gender orientation of couples* .17 .05
Communication .50 **
Conﬂict ⫺.30 **
Conﬂict management style of partner .27 **
Decision-making .26 **
Equity .37 **
Sexual relationship .28 **
Importance of sex .23 **
Physical affection .39 **
Note: *the contingency coefﬁcient for this 2 ⫻3 table also equaled .17 (p⫽.05) **indicates
a signiﬁcance level of ⬍.01
214 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
cally intimate with their partners, a sense of peace and contentment perme-
ated their remarks. This deﬁnition, derived from the participants’ reports,
resonated with components of psychological intimacy identiﬁed in the litera-
ture review of this paper.
Coding this variable involved an assessment of responses to questions
that asked each partner to talk about their relationships. These questions
included a range of topics such as what the partner meant to the participant,
how their relationships may have been different from other relationships,
how participants felt about being open with their partners, what words best
described the meaning of the partner to a participant, etc. Of particular
importance were questions that elicited responses about the quality of
communication such as, ‘‘How would you describe the communication
between you?’’ Communication was coded ‘‘positive’’ in recent years when
participants spoke positively about their comfort in carrying on discussions
with their partners about a wide range of issues. Otherwise, communication
was coded as ‘‘poor/mixed.’’ Positive communication was essential for the
development of psychological intimacy. Although positive communication
could be present without having a sense that the relationship was psycholog-
ically intimate, at least in a theoretical sense, the two factors were correlated
substantially (phi ⫽.50). Therefore, we decided not to include communica-
tion as an independent variable in the regression analysis. Psychologically
intimate communication captures what we are referring to as ‘‘psychologi-
When responses reﬂected themes of openness, reciprocity, and interde-
pendence between partners, psychological intimacy was coded as ‘‘posi-
tive.’’ Opposite responses were coded as ‘‘negative/mixed.’’ A lesbian par-
ticipant discussed the meaning of psychological intimacy in the relationship
with her partner that had lasted over 20 years:
I feel like I can be who I am. Now, she doesn’t always like everything about that.
But I can still be that way, and I don’t have to pretend. That’s never been something
that we’ve had to do. I would be horriﬁed if that had to be. I just can’t imagine
what that’s like . . . I don’t see us as fused. It’s important to me not to be. I don’t
like it. I don’t think it’s healthy . . . I don’t want to be in a relationship like that.
It’s important to me, for us, to be individuals, as well . . . She’s my best friend .
. . There’s a peacefulness about that . . . I can be whoever I am. I can say stuff
to her that I would never say to anyone else. There are parts of myself that I don’t
particularly like, and I don’t really share with other people, but it’s OK to share
with her. She’ll take them in. She’ll understand where it’s coming from.
The partner spoke of how their psychological intimacy had evolved:
Although we like a lot of the same things, our interests are different . . . I’ve
appreciated the fact that she has been the one who will raise an issue or problem
for the purpose of resolution or improvement, and not just because she’s angry.
She seems to be willing to take that initiative. I didn’t grow up in that kind of
setting, so I think that’s one reason this has worked. I think we both each really
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 215
like the other one a lot . . . There was a bond early on, in part because it was a
different kind of relationship . . . we were isolated for a long time, but that experi-
ence also bonded us . . . I can be much more vulnerable now . . . I look to her
for help with it, which wasn’t something I knew how to do before.
As the couples in this study grew older together the experience of
psychological intimacy was marked by a deepening sense of relational
communion between them, yet a respect for their differences, as illustrated
in the relationships of that couple.
A heterosexual couple reﬂected on the meaning of intimacy in their
relationship that had lasted 30 years. The wife experienced her spouse as:
My best friend, best lover . . . the person I can come home to when something
bad happens to me. Unfortunately, we have not had parents for many years. He
is my parent as well as my friend. He is the person who most cares what is happening
The meaning of intimacy to her husband was described by him:
I just like her to be next to me, near me. If you don’t have that feeling, I think
there is a piece that is missing. I think we are our own people, but we do it together.
You just have to respect the other person . . . trust their decisions and beliefs and
want to be with them.
The responses of these four partners reﬂected several themes that were
central to understanding and deﬁning psychological intimacy. One theme,
openness, reﬂected a sense of comfort in ‘‘being one’s self,’’ to be able to
reveal and say things to a partner that one felt could not be said to others;
the use of the expression, ‘‘best friend,’’ was often used by participants in
describing this reciprocal dimension of their relationships. The second
theme, interdependence, referred to maintaining separateness within the
attachment to a partner. Maintaining interpersonal boundaries in these
relationships apparently helped to sustain a sense of psychological intimacy;
that is, individuals felt ‘‘safe’’ in revealing their inner thoughts and feelings
because they could count on a partner to respect their separateness and
to accept, if not understand, them. Third, psychological intimacy was not
a constant in relationships but a sense or a representation in one’s mind
that one could conﬁde in a partner if one needed to discuss personal matters.
For both women and men, themes of connectedness, separateness, and
mutuality were apparent in their responses, although men tended to empha-
size proximity and women mutuality.
In selecting the independent variables, two criteria were used:
1. The variable had to be identiﬁed in previous studies as a signiﬁcant
factor in shaping psychological intimacy.
216 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
2. The variable had to be related signiﬁcantly to psychological intimacy
in the chi-square analysis (see Table I) and not be correlated sub-
stantially with the dependent variable (see Table II).
Based on these criteria, the independent variables were: conﬂict, conﬂict
management style of the partner, decision-making, equity, sexual relations,
importance of sexual relations, and physical affection.
There were questions that explored the nature of conﬂict. If disagree-
ments and differences between partners had a negative effect on a partici-
pant and were viewed as disruptive to relationships, such as a cut-off in all
verbal communication, conﬂict was coded as ‘‘major.’’ Other conﬂictual
matters between partners were coded ‘‘minimal.’’
Conﬂict management style was deﬁned as the predominant way in
which a participant and the partner dealt with differences and disagree-
ments. Direct or face-to-face discussions of interpersonal differences be-
tween partners were coded ‘‘confrontive.’’ If participants reported that they
did not or could not discuss their thoughts and feelings in face-to-face
encounters with their partners, such as denying their feelings or leaving
the scene, the style was coded as ‘‘avoidant.’’
Participants were asked to discuss their ‘‘ways of making decisions.’’
If decisions were usually made separately by one partner without the
involvement of the other one, decision-making was coded ‘‘separate.’’ If
important decisions were made together, this variable was coded ‘‘mutual.’’
The latter involved separate decision-making, depending on circumstances.
For example, mothers at home with children often made decisions about
discipline without talking with their partners. The criteria dealt with pre-
dominant modes of making decisions about signiﬁcant matters, such as
‘‘Equity’’ referred to the sense of fairness in relationships. The ques-
tions were framed as follows: ‘‘Overall, have you felt a sense of fairness in
the relationship?’’ ‘‘Despite differences, have things balanced out?’’ ‘‘Do
you feel that your ways of solving problems as a couple has been generally
fair to each of you?’’ If the responses to these inquiries were in the direction
of an overall sense of fairness, this variable was coded ‘‘yes;’’ if not, it was
Sexuality in relationships was explored through several inquiries. Parti-
cipants were asked about physical affection, which referred to physical
contact, such as hugging. If touching was a regular part of the relationship,
physical affection was coded ‘‘yes;’’ if it was not, it was coded ‘‘no/mixed.’’
This was part of the exploration of sexual relations, which included such
questions as, ‘‘How have you gotten along sexually in terms of nonsexual
intimacy, like hugging and touching?’’ Participants were also asked to assess
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 217
the importance of genital sex in their relationships, coded as ‘‘important’’
or ‘‘not important.’’ Genital sex that was ‘‘very important’’ early in relation-
ships began to wane after several years. As the frequency and satisfaction
with genital sex declined, psychological intimacy developed among most
participants. For example, during the early years of these relationships,
76%of participants reported satisfaction with the quality of their sexual
relations compared to 49%in the last 5 to 10 years. Although comparable
ﬁgures for psychological intimacy were 57%in the early years and 76%in
recent years, this change was not statistically signiﬁcant. Physical affection,
such as hugging and touching, remained relatively constant throughout the
years in contrast to the regression in sexual intimacy and the progression
in psychological intimacy. Despite the change in sexual intimacy, genital
sex continued to be seen as important from early through recent years.
Cross tabulations were done for all research variables with reports of
psychological intimacy in recent years. Personal and demographic factors
did not have a statistically signiﬁcant relationship to psychological intimacy
during recent years (i.e., p⬍.01). The gender of participants was not related
signiﬁcantly to psychological intimacy, neither was the age of participants
(categories ⫽40s, 50s, 60s and 70s). The number of years together (15–19,
20–29, 30–39, and 40 or more) was not signiﬁcant. Indices of socioeconomic
status were not signiﬁcant: gross family income (5 categories, from ⬍$25,000
to ⬎$100,000), and level of education (less than college, and college gradu-
ate graduate or more). Other social factors that were not signiﬁcantly related
to psychological intimacy in recent years included religious backgrounds
(Protestant, Catholic and Jewish), race (white and non-white), and whether
couples had children.
Table I shows the relational variables that were related signiﬁcantly
to psychological intimacy in recent years (p⬍.01). More than 9 out of
10 participants described their relationships as psychologically intimate in
recent years if they had also reported positive sexual relations and physical
affection. Eight out of ten participants felt psychological intimacy in recent
years was signiﬁcantly associated with minimal relational conﬂict, a con-
frontive conﬂict management style in one’s partner, mutual decision-mak-
ing, a sense of relational equity and a continued importance of sexual
reactions in their relationships.
Table II shows the phi coefﬁcients of a correlation analysis between
the dependent variable and each of the independent variables. A substantial
correlation was found between psychological intimacy and the quality of
218 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
⫽.50). Based on this analysis, communication was not
included as an independent variable in the theoretical model tested with
logistic regression. (The rationale for that decision was discussed under
the deﬁnition of psychological intimacy in the Methods section.) Low to
negligible correlations were found between psychological intimacy and the
independent variables of gender and sexual orientation. These variables
were included in the two theoretical models: the ﬁrst model contained the
sexual orientation of couples, along with the other relational variables; the
second model substituted gender of the participants for sexual orientation.
Table III shows the results of a logistic regression analysis—this in-
cludes variables from Table I, which had also been found in previous
research to be related signiﬁcantly to psychological intimacy. Included in
the model was the sexual orientation of couples. Variables in the model that
were not related signiﬁcantly to psychological intimacy included decision-
making, the quality of sexual relations, and the importance of sexual rela-
tions to relationships. Factors that were predictive of psychological intimacy
during recent years were physical affection between partners (B⫽1.63,
p⫽.01); the seriousness of conﬂict between partners (B⫽⫺2.24, p⫽
.01); the conﬂict management styles of partners, as reported by participants
(B⫽1.16, p⫽.01); and the fairness or equity of relationships (B⫽1.29,
p⫽.01). On the factor of the sexual orientation of couples, lesbian couples
differed from heterosexual couples (B⫽1.47, p⫽.05) and gay male couples
(B⫽1.96, p⫽.03). Compared to the gay males and heterosexuals, lesbians
Table III. Logistic Regression Coefﬁcients for Variables Associated with Psychological Inti-
macy in Recent Years
Variable BSESig’f Exp(B)
Gender orientation of couples
Heterosexual/lesbian 1.47 .74 .05 4.34
Heterosexual/gay ⫺.49 .65 .45 .61
Gay/lesbian* 1.96 .92 .03 7.09
Conﬂict ⫺2.24 .67 .01 .11
Conﬂict management 1.16 .43 .01 3.19
style of partner
Decision-making .81 .62 .19 2.24
Equity 1.29 .52 .01 3.62
Sexual relations .79 .49 .10 2.20
Importance of sex .18 .51 .72 1.20
Physical affection 1.63 .47 .01 5.12
Constant ⫺2.63 .90 .01
Note: 216; Model
⫽85.33 (9df); p⬍.001
*To accommodate the SPSS program, a separate model with the same independent variables
was constructed with gay males as the reference group. Except for a slight variation in the
constant (B⫽⫺2.75), all values remained the same as in the model with heterosexuals as
the reference group.
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 219
were more likely to report that their relationships were psychologically
intimate in recent years: 90%of lesbian, 75%of gay male, 72%of heterosex-
ual participants; (
⫽6.04 (2df), p⫽.05).
To clarify whether the differences between lesbians and the other two
groups was a matter of sexual orientation or gender, a second model was
constructed and tested with logistic regression. Gender was substituted
for sexual orientation of couples in that model. The results are shown in
Table IV suggests that factors that contributed to understanding psy-
chological intimacy in the ﬁrst regression analysis continued to have a
similar effect in this modiﬁed model. The gender of participants had a
moderate effect on the reported psychological intimacy in recent years
Sexual Orientation, Gender, and Psychological Intimacy
To examine the interacting effects of gender and sexual orientation
on psychological intimacy, we returned to the original qualitative data. The
four elements in the theoretical model for this study discussed earlier in
this paper (proximity, openness, reciprocity and interdependence) were
useful in this task. Subtle differences were found in how these elements were
weighed by participants, as they talked about the meaning of psychological
intimacy in their relationships.
Themes of proximity and interdependence were evident among males,
as illustrated in the responses of a gay male:
Emotionally, things are really good now . . . it feels good knowing I’m growing
old with [his partner], even though we’re very different people . . . I’m very social
Table IV. Logistic Regression Coefﬁcients for Variables Associated with Psychological Inti-
macy in Recent Years: Gender Substituted for Sexual Orientation
Variable BSESign’f Exp(B)
Gender .81 .47 .08 2.25
Conﬂict ⫺1.86 .60 .01 .16
Conﬂict management 1.39 .46 .01 5.63
style of partner
Decision-making .87 .61 .16 2.38
Equity 1.36 .51 .01 3.91
Sexual relations .60 .47 .20 1.83
Importance of sex .42 .49 .39 1.53
Physical affection 1.73 .45 .01 5.63
Constant ⫺2.94 .80 .01
⫽82.54 (8df); p⬍.001
220 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
and I have a lot of friends, and he’s not as social and he doesn’t have as many
friends . . . We both place a really great importance on togetherness. We make
sure that we have dinner together every night and we have our weekend activities
that we make sure we do together . . . I think that both of us understand it’s also
important to be an individual and have your own life . . . I think you become really
uninteresting to each other if you don’t have another life you can come back and
share . . . You need to bring things into the relationship . . . [things] that keep it
growing and changing.
The importance of proximity in the connection to his partner became
evident as this individual responded to our inquiry about psychological
intimacy. At the same time, he noted the value that he placed on separate-
ness from his partner. By implication, he was also talking about the element
of interdependence as he expressed the joy of ‘‘growing old’’ with his
partner in spite of the differences in their individual psychological makeups.
He emphasized proximity along with interpersonal differentiation as he
discussed the relationship in recent years.
The responses of many women tended to reﬂect themes of openness
and mutuality, along with differentiation in the psychologically intimate
connection with their partners. A lesbian participant spoke of those ele-
ments in her relationship:
What has been good is the ongoing caring and respect and the sense that there is
somebody there who really cares, who has your best interest, who loves you, who
knows you better than anybody, and still likes you . . . and just that knowing, that
familiarity, the depth of that knowing, the depth of that connection [that makes it]
so incredibly meaningful. There is something spiritual after awhile. It has a life of
its own. This is what is really so comfortable.
Variations by gender may have reﬂected how individuals perceived
and valued different elements of psychological intimacy within themselves
and in their partners. Because of the gender differences between partners
in heterosexual relationships, these variations on the theme of psychologi-
cal intimacy were manifested in a different way. The following observa-
tions of a heterosexual male illustrated those variations; he viewed his
very unselﬁsh, and she would sacriﬁce so that I could go out and do my thing. One
thing that we have always done, always, is talk constantly to each other. I don’t
know what we talk about, and I don’t know what we’ve had to talk about all these
years, but we still communicate with each other . . . We’ve had ﬁghts . . . when
she gets mad at me I stop talking to her. And then she feels very bad, and this
may last a day or two, and then it passes and everything is ﬁne again . . . She’s
more open than I am. I keep a lot inside and I don’t let it out, and that’s probably
not good. But, that’s the way I am.
Many heterosexual males viewed observable qualities in their wives,
such as support and their style of managing conﬂict, as important in devel-
oping and maintaining a sense of psychological intimacy in their marriages.
Females, on the other hand, often commented on the observable and then
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 221
went on to identify their understanding of the underlying dynamics that
shaped behavior. More than men, women talked about the interplay of
relational dynamics. The spouse in this marriage reported that she
ﬁlled certain needs in him, and I know he ﬁlled certain needs in me...he
didn’t have very high self-esteem. I may have boosted his conﬁdence a lot
. . . He tells me I go ballistic over stupid things, and he is outwardly very
calming . . . I don’t always agree with him, and he does not always agree with
me . . . but we’re good friends through it all, and I think that if you have a
good friend, you should be able to disagree or agree, or get angry or be happy,
or any number of emotions, if that’s your friend, that’s your friend . . . I don’t
even know how to describe it, you just have that closeness...there has to
be enough there so that when all these little outside things are ﬁnally gone, it’s
not ‘‘Who are you? I don’t know you, and we don’t have anything.’’ You have
to really work at keeping that level of a relationship active . . . not just a
physical spark, but just the whole picture.
Themes of connectedness and separateness in these four interview
passages were important dynamics in understanding the meaning of psycho-
logical intimacy to participants. The elements of proximity, closeness, mutu-
ality, and interdependence may have been shaped most signiﬁcantly by the
interaction of males and females in same- and opposite-gender relation-
ships. That is, it may not be gender alone that accounts for the differences
between males and females. If women value attachment in relationships in
a way different from men, then the data may suggest a mutually reinforcing
process toward strengthening connectedness in lesbian relationships. In
heterosexual and gay male relationships, the value that males place on
separateness in relationships may temper the quality of attachment that
develops over the years, and therefore results in different forms of psycho-
Psychological intimacy between lesbian partners had a different rela-
tional history from that of heterosexual and gay male partners. From the
early years to recent years, our data suggest a progressive shift toward
psychological intimacy between lesbian partners. Lesbians were as evasive
of face-to-face discussions of conﬂict as heterosexual and gay male males,
during the early years of their relationships. For lesbians, the avoidance
appeared to be a consequence of fearing abandonment by their partners
if they openly confronted differences. Only as lesbian couples became
increasingly disenchanted with their relationships did modiﬁcation in con-
ﬂict management styles occur. Usually, one partner took the risk of express-
ing her unhappiness. That encounter resulted in 85%of lesbians applying
for couple therapy. Based on the reports of lesbian respondents about the
meaning of therapy to their relationships, being involved in treatment may
have supported the development of psychologically intimate communica-
tion between partners.
222 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
Qualitative modes of data collection based on in-depth interviews
conducted are an effective tool for studying elusive phenomena, such as
psychological intimacy. The richness of data elicited through the method
used in this study is quite different from data collected through other means,
although there are concerns about validity and reliability, as well as the
nature of the sample.
It is difﬁcult to assess the validity of the data in the traditional sense
of that concept, since we were eliciting the personal perceptions and evalua-
tions of participants about the meaning of psychological intimacy in their
relationships at a particular point in time. The candor of participants on
highly personal matters, such as the decline in sexual relations because of
sexual dysfunctions, suggests that participants were equally candid about
other aspects of their relationships, such as psychological intimacy. By
interviewing partners separately and asking them to talk about themselves,
as well as their observations of their partners in these relationships, we
were able to compare responses to determine if there were signiﬁcant
differences over common realities. For example, did both partners assess
the nature of conﬂict in their relationships similarly? Did a participant, in
commenting on an aspect of a partner’s behavior, come close to the partner’s
observations about the same factor? Correspondence between partners was
permitted in the study, which was illustrated in the responses to conﬂict
management styles, when participants were asked to describe their style
as well as the style of their partners. For example, partners who described
themselves as having an evasive style were viewed by their partners in an
In a cross-sectional design in which participants are asked to report
on their life today and in the past, traditional measures of reliability are
inadequate. The meaning-of-life events and an individual’s response to
these events will vary, and may even vary within the same person at different
points over the lifespan. While longitudinal designs may be superior in
contending with problems of validity and reliability, cross-sectional designs
that use interviews to uncover the meaning of behavior have the strength
of eliciting the richness in the experiences of human beings.
There is a shortfall in recoding the data from multiple categories into
dichotomous ones. This step built onto the earlier qualitative analysis by
offering a different lens through which to understand the data. To offset
the potential reductionistic effects of recoding, we have incorporated a
discussion of the qualitative data into the results. The integration of qualita-
tive and quantitative procedures was intended to enhance the theory devel-
opment objective of the research.
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 223
The use of an interdisciplinary team throughout the research process
enhanced the quality of the study. Issues of bias, misinterpretation, and
other matters that could affect the validity and reliability of the data were
discussed. One of the principal investigators read all 216 interview tran-
scripts and served as a second blind coder for each interview. Having one
researcher read and code every interview provided for continuity in the
operational deﬁnitions of variables. To insure that there was both a male
and a female perspective on the data, the second coder was a woman. As
a measure of inter-rater reliability, Cohen’s kappa was used and ranged
from .79 to .93.
The sample was selected purposively to include participants not often
included in other studies in lasting relationships; namely, people of color,
blue-collar participants, and same-gender couples. The goal was not to
test theory but to develop an understanding of a subject—psychological
intimacy among an older group of diverse partners in lasting relationships—
that has not received much attention by researchers. The sample ﬁt with
the goal of this exploratory study.
The study of psychological intimacy in human relationships is a
highly complex and dynamic process. Deﬁning intimacy is a challenge,
as is the importance of specifying the operational parameters. We
deﬁned psychological intimacy as the sense that participants had of their
relationships as a place in which they could share personal thoughts
and feelings about themselves and their relationships not expressed
customarily with others. In this deﬁnition, positive communication was
a quintessential component of psychological intimacy. We focused on
cognitive themes about the meaning of relationships to individual partners
rather than on speciﬁc interpersonal behaviors. The sample consisted of
heterosexual and same-gender couples in relationships that had lasted
approximately 30 years.
A chi-square analysis of all research variables with the independent
variable revealed that social and demographic factors such as age, race,
education, income, and religion did not have signiﬁcant relationships to
psychological intimacy in recent years. That ﬁnding is important to the
process of understanding factors that contribute to the quality of psychologi-
cal intimacy in committed relationships that last for many years. It may
also suggest that factors within relationships are more important than are
socioeconomic and demographic factors in shaping psychological intimacy
between partners in these relationships.
224 Mackey, Diemer, and O’Brien
In the chi-square analysis, several factors were associated signiﬁcantly
with reports of psychological intimacy in recent years, deﬁned as the
last 5 to 10 years of these relationships (see Table I). They were the
quality of communication between partners, minimal relational conﬂict,
conﬂict management style of partners, couple decision-making, relational
equity, quality of sexual relations, importance of sexual relations, and
physical affection. These data are similar to ﬁndings reported in previous
studies that have explored psychological intimacy (Berscheid & Reis,
1998), although those studies tended to focus on younger participants.
Phi coefﬁcients were then computed to determine the strength of the
associations between the dependent variable and each of the independent
variables. Based on the substantial correlation between communication and
psychological intimacy (
⫽.50), communication was not included as a
dependent variable in the theoretical models that were tested with logistic
regression. In this study, it is appropriate to consider psychological intimacy
as psychologically intimate communication.
Based on the statistically signiﬁcant relationships of the above variables
with psychological intimacy, along with their identiﬁcation in previous re-
search as important factors in shaping intimacy (Kurdek, 1998; Swain,
1989; Howard, Blumenstein, & Swartz, 1986), two theoretical models were
constructed and tested with logistic regression analysis. The ﬁrst model
included the sexual orientation of couples (heterosexual, lesbian, or gay
male) as an independent variable. The results pointed to ﬁve factors pre-
dictive of psychological intimacy in these lasting relationships (see Table
III). They were minimal levels of relational conﬂict (B⫽⫺2.24, p⫽.01),
a confrontive conﬂict management style in the partners of participants
(B⫽1.16, p⫽.01), a sense of equity about their relationships (B⫽1.29,
p⫽.01), and expressions of physical affection between partners (B⫽1.63,
p⫽.01). The ﬁfth factor was sexual orientation of couples: more lesbians
reported their relationships as psychologically intimate in recent years than
did heterosexuals (B⫽1.47, p⫽.05) and gay males (B⫽1.96, p⫽.03),
a ﬁnding that resonated with the work of Kurdek, who compared intimacy
in heterosexual, lesbian, and gay male relationships (1998).
To assess the signiﬁcance of gender over sexual orientation on reported
psychological intimacy, gender was substituted for sexual orientation in a
second model (see Table IV). The four factors that contributed signiﬁcantly
to psychological in the ﬁrst model did not change substantially in this second
model, and the gender of participants had a moderate effect on the results
(B⫽.81, p⫽.08). That ﬁnding is compatable with those of Parks and
Floyd (1998), who argued that gender role identiﬁcation of males and
females is not as powerful a factor in shaping intimacy in friendship relation-
ships as may be assumed.
Psychological Intimacy in Lasting Relationships 225
This study focused selectively on a sample of 108 heterosexual and
same-gender partners in 216 relationships that had lasted an average of 30
years. The results suggested that factors within relationships themselves
had a more powerful effect in shaping the meaning of psychological intimacy
than did social and demographic factors. The data suggested that a sense
of psychological intimacy was nurtured when interpersonal conﬂict was
kept to minimal levels, when one’s partner dealt with conﬂict in the relation-
ship by initiating face-to-face discussion of differences, when one had a
feeling that the relationship was fair, and when there were expressions of
affection between partners through touching and hugging. Perhaps, a reason
that these relationships endured was that these factors nurtured a sense of
psychological intimacy that contributed to relational stability.
The data offer hypotheses for exploration and testing in future research
on lasting relationships. In addition to the factors that had a shaping effect
on psychological intimacy in recent years, subtle differences were found
between lesbian and other participants. Differences based on gender and
sexual orientation suggest a subtle interacting dynamic of these factors on
psychological intimacy in relationships that last. We suggest that a mutually
reinforcing dynamic between two women committed to personal and rela-
tional development may explain the subtle yet important differences be-
tween lesbian couples and the other couples in this study. We hope that
these ﬁndings and our observations about them will be helpful to other
researchers engaged in the study of lasting relationships.
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