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Self-Disclosure in Romantic Relationships

Angel is currently studying for her A-levels (English, Sociology and Psychology) in the hopes of going to university next year.

Disclosure puts you on the path to a healthy relationship.

Disclosure puts you on the path to a healthy relationship.

When dating someone we expect to be able to tell them anything and vice versa. The level of intimate information disclosed can be a predictor of relationship success; couples who have higher levels of disclosure tend to have more successful relationships that last longer.

At the same time, too much personal disclosure early on in a relationship is unlikely to lead to success. People expect a gradual increase in disclosure over time.

Self Disclosure and Romantic Relationships

Self-disclosure refers to the extent to which individuals reveal personal information about themselves. Sprecher found that the amount of disclosure in couples predicted whether they would stay together for more than four years or not; the more they disclosed, the closer they felt towards each other. Sprecher also found that there are different types of self-disclosure. Disclosures that talk about the experience of success or failure and previous sexual relationships have a greater influence on relationship satisfaction. However, this does not mean individuals should immediately disclose personal information. Derlega and Grzelah argue that there are norms of self-disclosure. For instance, a couple in the early stages of a relationship would not expect to reveal any personal information. Levels of disclosure should increase over time - and individuals expect their disclosure to be reciprocated.

To investigate whether self-disclosure can predict the success of relationships, Sprecher et al paired 156 undergraduate students into female-female or male-female dyads. In one condition, pairs would take turns to ask and answer questions. The second condition had one person ask questions and the other answer. In the first condition, there were high levels of liking and closeness than in the non-reciprocal group. This supports the idea of self-disclosure and the expectation for disclosure in return.

  • Self-Disclosure in Intimate Relationships: A study
    As hypothesized, positive associations were found between self-disclosure and the individual characteristics of self-esteem, relationship esteem (confidence as an intimate partner), and responsiveness and satisfaction.
Disclosure strengthens friendships and romantic partnerships.

Disclosure strengthens friendships and romantic partnerships.

Supporting Evidence for Self-Disclosure

Collins and Miller agree that self-disclosure plays a central role in the development of a relationship. They found that individuals who disclosed were liked more than those who don't, likeness was even stronger if an individual felt like the disclosure was shared only between them. This meta-analysis provides evidence in favour of self-disclosure and support for Sprecher et al's study.

Supporting research for self-disclosure has found that higher levels of self-disclosure occur online, but these relationships seldom last because they lack the intimacy of a face-to-face relationship. Cooper and Spartaler refer to this as the 'boom and bust' phenomenon. Online relationships become intense rapidly due to high levels of disclosure, 'boom'. It is assumed that individuals feel more comfortable revealing personal information online. Some argue this is because internet users have a degree of anonymity. They also argue that the lack of other social cues such as verbal or behavioural means that what a person says isn't filtered. For instance, if a person was talking about a controversial topic, and their partner looked disapproving, the individual may refrain from saying everything that they feel about the subject. This could explain why online people are more likely to disclose, thus leading to close relationships rapidly. However, due to a lack of trust and true knowledge of each other, it is difficult to sustain the relationship (bust). This argument suggests that self-disclosure works for physical relationships but not so well for a stable long-term relationship online.

Despite this, Krop et al dispute the belief that people disclose more online. Their study found that individuals disclose more personal information face-to-face than on social media platforms. They suggest this is because of the lack of intimacy, a person disclosing uses non-verbal cues such as eye contact which is absent online. These findings suggest that Cooper and Spartaler's assumptions were incorrect as people prefer to self-disclose face-to-face.

Cultural Bias

A limitation of Sprecher's study is that it has a beta cultural bias. Beta bias is when differences between cultures are minimalised or ignored. All the participants were undergraduates from a university in America so it ignores any potential differences between American and other cultures. For example, Chen found that Americans are more likely to disclose than Chinese or Japanese people. This bias means the findings cannot be applied to all cultures.

Overcome Bias

Overcome Bias

High levels of self-disclosure can be predictive of a successful and long lasting relationship, however, this disclosure cannot be one-sided otherwise individuals will not feel close to their partner.

Online relationships tend to develop rapidly as people feel more comfortable saying intimate things, however, the lack of a physical interaction makes online relationships difficult to maintain.


Cardwell, M., Flanagan, C. (2016) Psychology A level The Complete Companion Student Book fourth edition. Published by Oxford University Press, United Kingdom.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Angel Harper