David Frost, psychologist and assistant professor of population and public health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, spoke to students about the effects of closeness concerning the health of heterosexual relationships on Thursday, Nov. 21, in the Social Sciences building.
Before Frost began his heterosexual relationship closeness studies, he studied stigma and discrimination, specifically concerning LGBTQ discrimination. Through studying same-sex relationships, Frost continued onto the study of heterosexual relationships.
“We all have notions about what we think a healthy relationship is,” Frost said.
Psychologists often associate closeness to healthy relationships, Frost said. However, this is not necessarily true. Frost discussed closeness discrepancies in romantic relationships and their effect on relational, sexual and mental health.
In a relationship, closeness is an inclusion of the other in oneself, Frost said. It is a form of self-expansion. Individuals in a romantic relationship expand through forms of cognition and experimentation. However, closeness is not an absolute, Frost said.
“We have people in psych interested in romantic relationships,” assistant psychology professor Shaun Wiley said. “We have a romantic relationship lab. It’s an important area of psychology.”
“Everyone wants different things out of a relationship,” Frost added.
The significant point of the lecture was stressed by the term “closeness discrepancies.” These discrepancies are created based on an individual’s ideal versus actual closeness level. There can be the positive discrepancies, meaning there is too much closeness in a relationship, Frost said. An indicator of positive discrepancies is an individual’s need of personal space, wanting to spend more time with friends, fear of losing oneself and feeling the threat of their own independence.
Just as there are positive discrepancies of too much closeness, there are also negative discrepancies, meaning not enough closeness, Frost said. Indicators of negative discrepancies are lack of intimacy, different priorities and perspectives from a partner and sometimes even health problems distances couples. If an individual’s ideal relationship is that of a close one, but is experiencing distance and lack of intimacy from their partner, they are experiencing negative discrepancies, Frost said.
Many couples experience no discrepancies. These couples experience a healthier and more satisfied relationship. Indicators of no discrepancies are balances of closeness and independence, shared goals and purposes, perceived and provided support and effective communication. Closeness discrepancies will be regularly associated with relational well-being and mental health outcomes, Frost said.
“It’s not just how close you are, but (also) where the closeness matches your ideal in that moment,” Frost said.
This theory is expressed through two studies presented by Frost. The first is a study of individuals in a relationship over three years. The study was mostly female, and only 38 percent of the original participants were retained during the three-year time period.
Individuals compared their ideal relational closeness to their actual closeness, thus creating positive, negative or zero discrepancies.
“It’s not like the sitcoms with the male character being smothered by his overly close girlfriend,” Frost said.
Closeness discrepancies reported by males and females were very similar. Relationships with discrepancies had a higher chance of a dissolution relationship, Frost said. No discrepancies indicated a healthy and satisfied relationship.
“Closeness matters, but closeness discrepancies may matter more,” Frost said.
The second study was tested on both individuals of a relationship, regardless of gender, instead of one individual of a relationship. Through random addressed-based sampling, the study focused on 103 older couples with longer relationships. This study defined relational well being intro three categories: relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction and dissolution thought.
“This is an interesting proxy for commitment levels,” Frost said, concerning the category of dissolution thought.
The research indicated that closeness discrepancies affect the other partner.
“Closeness matters only at an individual level,” Frost said. “But closeness discrepancies matter more and individual and partner level.”
There are multiple moving parts, Frost said. Actual and ideal closeness in a relationship may change.
“I found it really interesting,” senior psychology major Christina Hermann said. “It’s nice to have researchers brought in who discuss subjects relevant to all students, not just psychology majors.”
“It’s nice to come and talk to students,” Frost said. “Relationship closeness is something college students can relate to.”