By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Although we generally think of partners in happy romantic relationships as close, this does not necessarily mean ‘the closer, the better.’ Rather, it is most important that partners find an emotional distance that works best for them.
When partners are similar in their desires for closeness, they are able to meet each other’s needs more naturally. There isn’t the conflict that emerges when one partner wants to get closer and the other partner yearns for a bit more distance. One recent study, which used three yearly online surveys, supports this idea. It used an assessment of closeness that has people pick from six circles that overlap different amounts; with each one representing a distinct level of closeness. The study found that couples that were closer did not necessarily have a better quality of relationship. Instead, the difference between participants’ ideal level of closeness and actual level of closeness was key; the less of a difference, the happier they were with their relationship.
You can do a similar experiment with yourself and your partner. Draw two pictures of overlapping circles. Make one to represent how close you feel to your partner now. Make the second one to represent how close you would like to be. Also, have your partner draw the same pictures. Then compare and discuss them. If there are differences in how you feel now or in what your ideal relationship would look like, it is important to discuss these differences; and to see how you can work on bridging them.
Remember, while good communication is critical in relationships and generally helps people feel closer, it’s important to be aware that more intimate communication is not always better. If you are someone who is more comfortable with a bit of distance, or you have a partner who feels this way, forcing more intimacy may not be the answer. Of course, ironically, you might need to talk through your differences to find a comfortable way to allow more distance in your relationship. In the end, for partners to feel happy with each other, they need to work together in finding a level of closeness that feels comfortable for them both.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.