How Building Intimacy Can Solve Relationship Conflicts

For many people, conflict resolution is one of the hardest parts of being in a romantic relationship. The subject and style of the conflict can vary from person to person and from couple to couple. However, researchers have begun to tackle how strategies for successful conflict resolution can be generalized across all romantic relationships and conflict situations, and one of the major findings involves focusing on intimacy. For more strategies and information about relationships and conflict resolution download the LIFE Intelligence app, one app to monitor and improve your self, career, and relationships. 

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What is Intimacy?

Intimacy is defined as feelings of closeness and connectedness in a close relationship, and it’s one of the three main components of love (Sternberg, 1986). For couples already in love, the degree to which each partner focuses on maintaining and strengthening intimacy can vary. Sanderson & Karetsky (2002) investigated whether focus on intimacy goals would be associated with conflict style in romantic relationships. The study defined intimacy to include things like communion, inter-dependence and self-disclosure in close relationships. The fact that Sanderson & Karetsky (2002) measured intimacy goals rather than intimacy tendencies is significant, because goals refer to what people want to accomplish, but might not match up with what they’re actually achieving (Berger, 1993). 

Some people might not be ready or willing to reach intimacy in their romantic relationships. There are two types of tendencies that people have in romantic relationships: they either value autonomy and agency, or communion and attachment (Bakan, 1966). Those in the first category might not see intimacy as a strong priority, and might not want to allocate energy to it. In addition, individuals must have an understanding of their own identity before being able to be fully intimate with their partner. People still seeking independence from their parents or who are trying out different identities might view relationships as a way to do so, which does not support intimacy (Sanderson & Karetsky, 2002). 

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What has past research found?

Previous studies found that the tendency to pursue intimacy goals in dating relationships is correlated with secure attachment (Hazan & Shaver, 1987), more stable relationships, more time spent alone with their partner, engaging in more self-disclosure, and giving and receiving more social support from their partner (Sanderson & Cantor, 1997, 2001; Sanderson & Evans, 2001). Because of these findings of the benefits of intimacy goals, Sanderson & Karetsky (2002) decided to investigate how intimacy goals are related to conflict resolution styles in dating relationships, as little previous research had been done on the connection between these two subjects. 

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How Focusing on Intimacy Goals Can Help with Conflict Resolution.

Sanderson & Karetsky (2002) recruited participants from a small liberal arts college in the Northeast, and the mean age was 19.4. They used a self-report questionnaire developed by Sanderson and Cantor (1995) that evaluates how much individuals strive for intimacy goals. It included statements like “I try to take care of my boy/girlfriend” and participants rated their agreement from 1 to 5. Sanderson & Karetsky (2002) measured how the participants respond to conflict in multiple ways. Participants responded to a questionnaire about conflict management, read through hypothetical dating conflict scenarios and reacted to them, and described an example of a conflict in their own romantic relationship.

The results showed that the participants with a stronger focus on intimacy goals were significantly more likely to handle conflict with healthy strategies like compromise and open discussion (Sanderson & Karetsky, 2002). They were also more likely to seek support from family and friends during the conflict and were less likely to deny the conflict. Arguably, the most important finding from this study was that people with a stronger focus on intimacy goals were significantly more likely to resolve the conflict. 

Since the best outcome of a relationship conflict would most likely be to resolve it, this research about focusing on intimacy goals provides a good strategy for working through conflict. And the best part is, there’s not one right way to do it. The topic is intimacy goals not simply intimacy, which means that as long as you continue to want to be more intimate with your partner, your conflict resolution may improve. 

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How the LIFE App Can Help.

Conflicts are an inevitable part of romantic relationships, which is why we need all the tools we can get to help improve our conflict-solving skills and to deal with the accompanying emotions. The LIFE Intelligence self-care app’s 9 step Mission program guides you through mental health, self-awareness, goal setting, regret and time management, decision making, stress management, relationships, conflict resolution, and leadership. Mission 8 is about conflict and communication in both personal and professional relationships. In particular, Mission 8.2 goes over ways to communicate effectively during a conflict and Mission 8.4 includes four concrete steps to conflict resolution to restore intimacy in the relationship. Check them out and start LIFE free today. 

Julia Pines
July 13, 2021


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Berger, C. R. (1993). Goals, plans, and mutual understanding in relationships. In S. Duck

(Ed.), Individuals in relationships (pp. 30–59). Newbury Park, CA: Sage 

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love as conceptualized as an attachment process.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511–524. 

Sanderson, C. A., & Cantor, N. (1995). Social dating goals in late adolescence: Implications for 

safer sexual activity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(6), 1121–1134. 

Sanderson, C. A., & Cantor, N. (1997). Creating satisfaction in steady dating relationships: The 

role of personal goals and situational affordances. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(6), 1424–1433. 

Sanderson, C. A., & Cantor, N. (2001). The association of intimacy goals and marital 

satisfaction: A test of four mediational hypotheses. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(12), 1567–1577. 

Sanderson, C.A. & Evans, S.M. (2001). Seeing One’s Partner Through Intimacy-Colored 

Glasses: An Examination of the Processes Underlying the Intimacy Goals-Relationship Satisfaction Link. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(4), 463-473. 

Sanderson, C. A., & Karetsky, K. H. (2002). Intimacy goals and strategies of conflict resolution 

in dating relationships: A mediational analysis. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19(3), 317–337. 

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychol. Rev. 93 119–135. 

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