The exploration of relational style differences between men and women in the intimate couple system: Its origins and impact on intimacy

Ann Morris Drake (1989)

Relational style differences between men and women in intimacy are informally acknowledged to exist by some while others tend to ignore or disclaim its relevance. To date there has been scant research on this topic. This project was designed as an exploratory study to examine the possible existence of and reasons for relational style differences between men and women in intimacy as well as to determine the key factors that contribute to the successful functioning of the intimate couple system. Self-in-relation theory and the work of Carol Gilligan served as theoretical guides in this exploration. Five couples between the ages of 25 and 37 who considered themselves to be in good to excellent relationships were interviewed both individually and as a couple in a qualitative research design. Those interviewed discussed their feelings and images about intimacy as well as sharing some problems in their relationships, their feelings about these problems and what they felt should be done about them. The research design had three components. The results were that three of the women and two of the men clearly moved toward connection and emotional sharing; two of the women and one of the men were in the middle between connection and non-relational behavior; and two of the men clearly moved toward non-relational behavior. These findings point to the difficulty and complexity in making definitive statements about relational style differences between men and women. Results further suggest that in successful relationships (1) the relational connection with one's partner is the most important aspect of one's life and that one takes great care in maintaining and nurturing that relational bond; and (2) one has the capacity to take into account the feeling state of the other and to act in a mutually empathic caring way. An interesting research question was raised for further study which suggests that the relational bond with one's same sex parent was the most significant factor in one's ability to be relational in an adult intimate relationship. Clinical and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed in terms of intra-psychic, interpersonal and cultural phenomena.