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Time, Intimacy, and Gender  

I recently read a research study that has some implications for what I have been talking about in this section for the past two months. While I completed the brief series on happiness in a relationship after having children, this month’s article can be considered a post script to the series.

The research study looked at intimacy and connection in couples who had children and what factors made a difference in the intimacy and connection the couples experienced. Almost all of the couples in the study talked about time together as being very important to their intimacy and connection. Those who were most successful at maintaining an intimate connection tended to do the things I wrote about last month: making the relationship a priority and putting boundaries around couple time. What was striking to me was that there was another factor that made a big difference in intimacy and in their success at creating time as a couple. That factor had to do with how much couples adhered to gender stereotypes.

It’s no big secret that men and women often act and think in somewhat different ways and they are socialized to value different things. What was most interesting to me in the research was that the couples that were most successful in creating intimate connection were those who adhered least to some traditional gender stereotypes. At the extreme end were the couples who prioritized male experience over female, holding the idea that if accommodations are to be made in a relationship, it is the woman who needs to make them. These were the couples that reported the least satisfaction with their intimacy and connection. The other stereotypes that seemed to matter were those that held that women are more “needy” for connection than men and women should be the ones to take the lead in maintaining connection and attending to emotional needs in the relationship.

The couples that were happiest with their intimacy and connection were those who both took responsibility for attending to the emotional health of the relationship and who recognized that intimacy and emotional connection is important to both men and women. It kind of fits what I have always said: that connection is just as important to men and women though they might experience their need for it in different ways.

How does your relationship match up? Are you both taking responsibility for attending to the emotional well-being of the relationship and each other? Do you recognize intimacy and connection is important for both of you?