Fostering the Growth of Intimacy Through Self-Disclosure
Self-Disclosure means telling your partner things you would not tell just anyone else. These are personal and intimate details about you, or your past. It may be anything from the fact that you were a real geek in grade school, to the details of a childhood trauma.
Much research has supported that couples who self-disclose to each other are more satisfied with their relationship and experience feelings of greater intimacy. One study actually found that the more couples self-disclosed, the more likely they were to stay together, and the less they self-disclosed, the less likely they were to stay together (see reference below).
When your partner is telling you personal things it is important to be accepting and refrain from criticizing or being judgemental. Nothing will close them up faster than weird looks or nasty comments from you. If your partner does not feel safe sharing with you then they won’t share with you, and feelings of intimacy and closeness will discipate.
It is also effective to self-disclose with your partner after they have self-disclosed to you. Mutual self-disclosure causes couples to feel closer and creates intimacy. These feelings of greater intimacy, in turn, foster more self-disclosure as you begin to trust each other at deeper levels.
Trust is an important issue with self-disclosure because self-disclosure is a demonstration of trust. If you tell your partner personal stories they will feel that you trust them, and you probably do. We all want to be trusted, and naturally feel closer to people as we trust them more. But, make sure that you are trustworthy if you expect to be trusted with sensitive information.
Finally, don’t expect your partner to suddenly start sharing out of the blue. You may need to ask some questions to draw your partner out. Try sharing a personal detail or story about yourself and follow up with a related question about your partner.
Reference: “Understanding Human Sexuality”, Janet Shibley Hyde and John D. DeLamater, 2000