advertisement
Home » Blogs » Single at Heart » Emotional Intimacy: Where Married, Divorced, and Single People Find It

Emotional Intimacy: Where Married, Divorced, and Single People Find It

Think about the people “you feel you’ve had a deep emotional connection with, where you believed that the person saw you for who you really are.”

Do you have your list? Now note whether any of them are romantic partners, close friends, parents, or siblings.

The Nonfiction Research group posed a similar question (among many others) to a national sample of 692 adults in the United States. They published their findings in the report, “Intimacy in America.”

The percentages of people who said they had experienced emotional intimacy with a significant other (their term for spouses or other romantic partners), close friend, parent, or sibling struck me as surprisingly low.

Emotional Intimacy with a Spouse or Romantic Partner

Only about 6 in 10 people (59%) said that they had ever experienced a deep emotional connection with a significant other, where they believed that person saw them for who they really are.

Maybe that’s not so surprising, considering that nearly half of all adults in the U.S. who are 18 or older are not married. But here’s a finding that caught my attention: Only 79% of married people said that they had experienced emotional intimacy with a significant other. In our mythology, contemporary marriage is where adults experience their deepest emotional connection. And yet, 21% of the married people in this survey said that they never experienced that kind of connection with a significant other.

It gets even more interesting. Of the divorced people, only 39% said that they experienced that kind of deep emotional intimacy with a significant other, where the other person saw them for who they really are. Did they really marry someone who did not know them at that deep and authentic level? Or did they think they had that connection early on, only to change their minds later?

Among the people who had always been single, about the same number (40%) said that they had experienced a deep emotional connection to a significant other. These people had never been married, and yet they were about as likely to have experienced emotional intimacy with a romantic partner as someone who got married and then divorced.

Experiences of emotional intimacy with a significant other also differed by gender. Among the women, 63% had experienced a deep emotional connection with a spouse or romantic partner. Among men, only 56% had. Because the researchers did not compare men and women within the same couple, we can’t know for sure whether this finding means that there are many heterosexual couples in which the woman thinks she is experiencing a deep emotional bond and is being seen for who she really is, while the man does not.

Emotional Intimacy with a Close Friend

Overall, only 55% of the survey participants said that they had experienced deep emotional intimacy with a close friend. I expected that number to be higher, considering the number of people we have the opportunity to befriend over the course of a lifetime.

We usually think of women as better at friendship than men. A greater proportion of them said that they had experienced emotional intimacy with a close friend, but the difference was not impressive: 56% of the women, compared to 53% of the men.

Comparing people of different marital statuses, it was the lifelong single people who were most likely to say that they had experienced deep emotional intimacy with a close friend, but the married people were only a little less likely to say the same thing: 58% of single people, compared to 54% of married people. The divorced people were least likely to say they experienced deep emotional intimacy with a close friend (42%).

Emotional Intimacy with a Parent

When you answered the question about emotional intimacy, did you name a parent as someone with whom you experienced that? If so, you stand out from most others. Overall, only 46% said that they had a deep emotional connection with a parent, and that parent saw them for who they really are.

The findings were about the same for the men (46%) as for the women (47%). The people who had always been single were a shade more likely than the married people to have a deep emotional connection with a parent, 49% vs. 47%. Among the divorced people, 31% experienced emotional intimacy with a parent.

Emotional Intimacy with a Sibling

Did you name a sibling as someone with whom you have experienced emotional intimacy? If so, you stand out even more than if you said that about a parent. Overall, only 37% said that they had a deep emotional connection with a sibling who saw them for who they really are.

With regard to siblings, divorced people were about the same as married and single people, and men and women were about the same, too. Percentages ranged only from 35% to 38%.

What Does It All Mean?

Marriage is no guarantee of emotional intimacy – experiencing a deep emotional connection with another person and feeling seen for who you really are. In fact, about 1 in every 5 married people say that they have never experienced emotional intimacy with a significant other. People who were once married and are currently divorced are no more likely to have experienced emotional intimacy with a romantic partner than people who have never been married.

Overall, people were only a little less likely to have experienced emotional intimacy with a close friend (55%) than with a significant other (59%). People who had always been single were the most likely to have experienced emotional intimacy with a close friend (though married people were not far behind).

Findings like these exemplify why I don’t like using the term “significant other” to refer only to spouses and romantic partners. Close friends can be quite significant to many of us – perhaps especially to people who stay single. For some people, connections with parents or siblings are also deeply significant, emotionally.

As always, it is important to keep in mind that in studies like this, when there are differences among people of different marital statuses, we cannot know for sure if marital status is the cause of the differences. For example, maybe divorced people differ from everyone else in some other way that explains their lower levels of emotional connections to significant others, close friends, and parents (though they were about the same as everyone else in their emotional intimacy with siblings).

A note about the survey participants: The researchers started with a large number of adults in the U.S. who signed up to do Survey Monkey surveys. The final 692 people mapped onto known characteristics of the U.S. population such as age, gender, ethnicity, income, education, employment, political affiliation, and geography.

At this point, I consider these findings as suggestive and would like to see them replicated in future studies. What they do suggest, though, is intriguing.

Photo by tenthousandcubans

Emotional Intimacy: Where Married, Divorced, and Single People Find It

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyZysfafOAs. Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at www.BellaDePaulo.com.


2 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment

 

 

APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2019). Emotional Intimacy: Where Married, Divorced, and Single People Find It. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/single-at-heart/2019/02/emotional-intimacy-where-married-divorced-and-single-people-find-it/

 

Last updated: 8 Feb 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.