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Closeness Isn't Always Key to Romantic Bliss

THURSDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Intimacy isn't bliss if it's too close for comfort.

Or not close enough to make you feel special.

That's the Valentine's Day message from researchers at Columbia University, who found that your significant other can be emotionally distant and still offer you a fulfilling relationship. The key, according to their research, is that you should be as close as you want to be.

"Our study found that people who yearn for a more intimate partnership and people who crave more distance are equally at risk for having a problematic relationship," study lead author David Frost, a psychologist and professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, said in a news release. "If you want to experience your relationship as healthy and rewarding, it's important that you find a way to attain your idealized level of closeness with your partner."

The study involved more than 700 men and women in the United States and Canada. The participants completed online questionnaires about their relationships. Specifically, they were asked about closeness, or the degree to which they identified with their partner and shared their significant other's values, views and personality traits. They were also asked about their relationship satisfaction, commitment, break-up thoughts, and symptoms of depression.

Too much distance in the relationship was reported by 57 percent of the men and women surveyed. The researchers also found 37 percent of the participants were content with the level of intimacy in their relationship and 5 percent felt too close to their significant other.

Frost's team found that a gap between the amount of closeness in a relationship and the desired level of intimacy was associated with lower relationship quality and an rise in symptoms of depression. It didn't matter if the participants felt too close or not close enough. The negative effects occurred only when the participants didn't achieve the level of closeness they wanted in their relationships.

Over the course of the study, relationship quality improved for participants whose level of relationship intimacy changed to more closely match their expectations. In these cases, the participants' mental health also improved, the study found. Meanwhile, when the desired level of closeness was not achieved, couples were more likely to be unhappy and break up.

The study's authors believe differences in the amount of closeness desired in a relationship should play a role in psychotherapy for both individuals and couples.

"It's best not to make too many assumptions about what constitutes a healthy relationship," noted Frost. "Rather, we need to hear from people about how close they are in their relationships and how that compares to how close they'd ideally like to be."

The study was published online Feb. 13 and in the April issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more insight on emotional health.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Columbia University, news release, Feb. 13, 2013

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