- People in a romantic relationship need to negotiate discrepant desires for information sharing and privacy maintenance.
- A recent paper concludes that autonomy-supportive strategies (vs controlling ones) are more effective in eliciting disclosure and maintaining privacy.
- Autonomy-supportive strategies are empathic and supportive of active participation. Controlling strategies are dominating and invalidating.
Self-disclosure in romantic relationships tends to be associated with positive outcomes, such as greater closeness, intimacy, love, commitment, trust, relationship stability, and relationship satisfaction.
Nevertheless, an individual in a romantic relationship may keep inner thoughts and feelings secret for a variety of reasons (e.g., fear of being rejected).
In fact, what is true for everyone is that there is always a tension between the desire for self-disclosure and the desire for privacy maintenance.
So, how do we negotiate discrepant desires for disclosure and privacy maintenance?
The results of some studies showed that autonomy-supportive strategies are seen as more acceptable and effective for both maintaining privacy and eliciting disclosure. And they are associated with greater quantity and depth of disclosure, relationship satisfaction, lower anxious and avoidant attachment, and less abandonment anxiety and avoidance of closeness. In contrast, being controlling correlated with lower intimacy.
By using autonomy-supportive strategies. They are characterized by:
- Exchange of information, not making evaluations or assigning blame.
- Acknowledging feelings and perceptions.
- Showing empathy, concern, and interest.
- Being flexible regarding the content or timing of disclosure.
- Promoting initiative and active participation in decision-making.
Controlling strategies, in contrast, are perceived as disrespectful, dominating, threatening, invalidating, guilt-inducing, deceiving, or rejecting.
In fact, being controlling may create a vicious circle. This occurs when a partner seeking intimacy and closeness does not receive it, so resorts to more controlling strategies, which then cause the other partner to withdraw even more….
Why do autonomy-supportive approaches work? Perhaps because they increase not extrinsic motivation (e.g., pressure by the partner) but self-driven or intrinsic motivation (e.g., desire for emotional support).
Such strategies are particularly helpful for those who are anxious or avoidant, enabling them to turn to their romantic partner for support when experiencing stress.