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Handbook of Closeness and IntimacyReview - Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy
by Debra J. Mashek, Arthur Aron (Editors)
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Review by Kendell C. Thornton, Ph.D.
Mar 1st 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 9)

As an academic who is currently involved in the area of interpersonal relationship research, I was excited when this book was finally published.  Being familiar with much of the research that Mashek and Aron bring together in this handbook, I was most interested to catch up on the latest thinking on the scientific study of closeness and intimacy.  I have always enjoyed handbooks for providing the reader with an overview of a topic of interest, and it is encouraging that there is finally one for the relationship closeness and intimacy literature.  In the introduction, the authors address the "need" for another handbook, given the fact that there is already "The Handbook of Personal Relationships," but I also feel strongly that the discipline is large enough now that much of the knowledge is disjointed and in need of summary and synthesis. 

This handbook focuses on six general, interrelated questions, which make up the six sections of the book.  The first section addresses the definition of closeness and intimacy, however throughout the entire book most of the authors state clearly at the outset of each chapter what they mean by closeness and intimacy.  Because many of the contributors summarize and existing program of research, it is helpful that they begin with explicit definitions as they offer a clear overview of the theoretical framework of closeness and intimacy.  By beginning the book with an articulation of how most people understand the constructs of closeness and intimacy, the authors help the reader more clearly make sense of psychological theory and research.  In this way, professionals and students from a variety of disciplines will find this handbook interesting and easy to understand.

The second section addresses the question of how closeness and intimacy can be measured.  This section builds upon the first by addressing how one can assess these seemingly complex constructs.  The first chapter of this section (chapter 6) is a review of the relationship closeness inventory (RCI) (Bersheid, Snyder, & Omoto, 1989b), a behavioral measure of relationship closeness based on Thibaut and Kelley’s (1959) interdependence theory, that determines the degree of closeness in interpersonal relationships by calculating the amount of time two individuals spend alone with each other, the diversity of activities they engage in together, and the strength of the influence that each has on the other.  The next chapter then describes a cognitive measure of closeness, the inclusion of other in self (IOS) scale (Aron, Aron & Smollan, 1992), which is also discussed by Aron, Mashek, and E. Aron (chapter 3) as a theoretical perspective of closeness defined as including in one’s self another person’s resources, perspectives, and identities.  Finally, a chapter by Kouneski and Olson (chapter 8) presents a measurement tool that overviews Enriching Relationship Issues, Communication and Happiness (ENRICH), which focuses on the dynamics of intimacy across an array of domains.

The third section focuses on the question of what some of the processes are which drive closeness and intimacy.  Again, this is a topic that most chapters address, but which can clearly be seen as a domain of closeness and intimacy that deserves its own section.  First, Rusbult, Kumashiro, Coolsen, and Kirchner (chapter 9) focus on Thaibut and Kelley’s interdependence theory, and the implications of closeness existing when one partner is dependent on the other.  Collins and Feeney (chapter 10) then review the attachment theory perspective and how intimacy is expressed in adult close relationships.  Next, in the only chapter that focuses specifically on physical intimacy, Vohs and Baumeister (chapter 11) argue that passion is a function of the rate of increase in intimacy, as they outline a model of the link between passion and intimacy.  Finally, Reis, Clark, and Holmes (chapter 12) offer a view of intimacy focused on the core theme of perceived partner responsiveness. 

The fourth section addresses the question of the role individual differences play in closeness and intimacy.  The authors of this section suggest that some of the differences in the way people vary in their comfort with intimacy and the nature of the closeness experience are a function of what the individual brings to the relationship.  This section begins with Cross and Gore (chapter 13) discussing how relationship-interdependent self-construals might facilitate the development and maintenance of intimacy.  The ways people pursue intimacy goals in their relationships is explored by Sanderson (chapter 14), with a focus on why people with intense intimacy goals seem to report enhanced levels of relationship satisfaction.  Finally, E Aron (chapter 15) argues that innate temperament, in interaction with early environmental influences, plays an important role in shaping closeness and intimacy throughout the lifespan.

Section five addresses the situational factors which play a role in closeness and intimacy.  Arriaga, Goodfriend, and Lohmann (chapter 16) show how situational factors influence the experience of closeness and intimacy, as well as how closeness can influence our social and physical environments.  Wortman, Wolff, and Bonanno (chapter 17) then examine how the death of a partner alters both closeness behaviors in other relationships as well as the desire to establish new intimacies.  Finally, Adams, Anderson, and Adonu (chapter 18) challenge some of the assumptions about intimacy and relationships commonly held by relationship researchers, by considering the very broad and extremely influential context of culture. 

The sixth and last section addresses the question of whether or not there is a dark side to closeness and intimacy.  Most people consider closeness and intimacy to offer generally positive outcomes.  However, this is challenged by Mashek and Sherman (chapter 19) as they explore what it means to feel "too close" to another and how the hypothesized causal role of interpersonal control may lead some to desire less closeness.  Next, Ickes, Hutchison, and Mashek (chapter 20) delve into the concept of closeness as intersubjectivity and the minimal criteria necessary for a personal relationship to exist.  Firestone and Firestone (chapter 21) then consider how clinicians might approach people who are plagued by fear of intimacy, focusing on individual defenses instead of processes that occur at the dyadic level.  Finally, Edelstein and Shaver (chapter 22) investigate the apparent paradox of "avoidant attachment," where avoidant individuals are indeed attached, but they are also very skilled in shutting off thinking about painful topics. 

Mashek and Aron have assembled a book that summarizes the central relationship processes of closeness and intimacy.  Not only do the contributors offer an overview of a theoretical framework on closeness and intimacy, each chapter contains a plethora of new ideas, new applications, and previously unstated theoretical connections.  Although this handbook is of particular interest to me, because of my research on relationship closeness as a predictor of embarrassment (Thornton, 2003), I believe that the subjects of relationship closeness and intimacy are intrinsically interesting to most everyone, and for this reason I highly recommend this Handbook to anyone interested in the topic. 

 

© 2004 Kendell C. Thornton

 

Kendell C. Thornton, Ph.D. is currently an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. He earned his B.S. in Psychology from the University of Idaho, M.S. in Social Psychology from the University of Montana, and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Kansas. His current research interests include interpersonal relationships, with a focus on emotions, motivations, and self-concept.


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