How Self-Disclosure Affects Relationships

By Mia Belle Frothingham, published June 15, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Self-disclosure is the sharing of personal information with others that they would not normally know or discover. We form more intimate connections with people with whom we disclose important information about ourselves.

This usually happens when trust has been established and we can be confident that the information we reveal is not going to be released to others and cause us embarrassment.

Indeed, self-disclosure is a characteristic of healthy intimate relationships, as long as the information disclosed is consistent with our own views.

Self-disclosure is one way to learn about how another person thinks and feels. Self-disclosure performs several functions. It is a way of gaining information about another person. We want to be able to predict the thoughts and actions of people we know.

Self-disclosure brings many benefits to all relationships, such as:

  • Reporting higher relationship quality
  • Partners feel a sense of being needed by one another
  • Feeling emotionally connected to your partner
  • Stronger commitment to the relationship
  • Being happier in the relationship
  • Feeling loved by your partner
  • Developing stronger trust for your partner
  • Having higher levels of empathy for each other
  • Understanding each other better
riends having coffee, smiling and gossip.o

Key Takeaways

  • Self-disclosure is not simply providing information to another person. Instead, scholars define self-disclosure as sharing information with others that they would not normally know or discover. Self-disclosure involves risk and vulnerability on the part of the person sharing the information.
  • The person to whom we self-disclose must feel that we disclose because we trust them and that we would not reveal the information to everyone.
  • Self-disclosure is seen as a useful strategy for sharing information with others. By sharing information, we become more intimate with other people and our interpersonal relationship is strengthened.
  • Once one person engages in self-disclosure, it is implied that the other person will also disclose personal information. This is known as the norm of reciprocity.
  • There are two main types of self-disclosure: verbal and nonverbal. We often self-disclose verbally, like when we tell others about our opinions, feelings, preferences, goals, and fears. We also disclose nonverbally through our body language, clothes, jewelry, tattoos, and any other clues we might give about our personalities and lives.
  • While there are several advantages to self-disclosure, there are also risks. One risk is that the person will not respond favourably to the information. Self-disclosure does not automatically lead to favourable impressions.
  • Another risk is that the other person will gain power in the relationship because of the information they possess. Finally, too much self-disclosure or self-disclosure that comes too early in a relationship can damage the relationship. Thus, while self-disclosure is useful, it can also be damaging to a relationship.

Mutual Give-and-Take

Creating a successful relationship of any kind involves a mutual give-and-take between people - and self-disclosure can also be thought of as a reciprocal process.

This indicates that when there is self-disclosure in relationships, one person shares intimate details of their life, and the other person, in turn, self-discloses about personal information of their life.

We expect as we reveal more and more about ourselves that the other will also respond with empathy and by similar self-disclosure.

Mutual disclosure deepens trust in the relationships and helps both people understand each other more. You also come to feel better about yourself and your relationship when the other person accepts what you tell them.

Self-disclosure can sometimes go well - it can lead to closer relationships and a better-shared understanding with the people you contact daily. But sometimes, these personal revelations do not go quite as planned.

Inappropriate or poorly timed self-disclosure can frequently lead to self-embarrassment and could potentially damage relationships.

Successful self-disclosure hinges on various factors, including the type of relationship people share, the situation in which this information is exchanged, and the current level of intimacy shared by those involved.

However, with assertive communication, you are acknowledging the other person's feelings and wishes. Still, at the same time, you are openly sharing yours and also trying to find the best solution for the situation at hand. This communication style correlates to very little stress.

Relationship Development

While it may appear different for various types of relationships, self-disclosure is an essential component of any thriving relationship. 
Self-disclosure builds trust and rapport, which brings individuals together and strengthens their connection. 

What is revealed needs to be appropriate to the stage of the relationship e.g. mentioning that you want children in the first date might be off-putting to the potential partner. Timing and content of the self-disclosure need to be appropriate to the stage of the relationship.

Self-disclosure may be more limited in the beginning phases of a new relationship. Still, people grow more intimate and deeply involved with one another because they become progressively more open to sharing their life stories, preferences, and unknowns with their partners.

To build a deep and trusting relationship over time, some level of self-disclosure is required, and the more intimate the relationship, the higher and deeper this disclosure tends to be.

Through this process, individuals in relationships can gradually communicate more and more of themselves. In this way, self-disclosure in all kinds of relationships is a continuous process of sharing information about oneself.

Women tend to be better at communicating and more interested in intimate information. Men might not be used to this type of conversation and feel threatened or feel unable to reciprocate.

How to Self-Disclose

There are many ways to use self-disclosure to communicate with another person. To begin with, it can be helpful to choose if you prefer to disclose information in person, through a letter, on a phone call, through video, or another form.

The medium you decide on for self-disclosure can change how effective it is or help you handle some of the more challenging parts.

For instance, self-disclosing in a letter or over the phone may enable you to reveal the content of self-disclosure without sharing bodily cues like averted eyes, hunched posture, or even tears.

These are things that many people find awkward to disclose to others. Writing a letter could also enable you to get the benefits of catharsis without being as concerned about a potentially harmful response.

For example, if you expect a negative response but are compelled to share something, a hand-written letter can occasionally help you get over the bump and share what you must share.

Still, in-person (face-to-face) self-disclosure seems ideal for building intimacy and acquiring social support. Receiving a hug or immediate social support characterized by empathetic facial expressions and even an offer of help may be what one is looking for.

So taking the time to think through the precise approach one wants to take when self-disclosing can help one get the rewards one seeks.

An example of self-disclosure could be that a friend tells you that they are struggling with a clash with a family member, and you share with them a time you had a family dispute and how you settled it.

An example of self-disclosure in romantic partnerships might be chatting with your significant other about what you expect to achieve in your career or what life would look like five years later.

These discussions can help you to reveal parts of yourself to each other. Ideally, your partner also should share their notions with you.

A way to self-disclose successfully is to ask oneself a few questions before doing so. 

  1. Is the information private or secret? Personal information is just for you, and confidential information may be available to multiple people.
  2. IF SECRET: Is the other individual a suitable person to share this information with?
  3. IF YES: Is keeping these details to yourself disturbing or harmful in a particular way (to yourself, others, or the relationship?)
  4. IF YES: Then self-disclosure is probably a good idea.

In friendships or romantic relationships, self-disclosure can build an everlasting connection, maintaining friendships and partnerships intact over the long term.

Start slowly if you have any fears about sharing too much intimate information. Have discussions where you talk about your hobbies, such as your favourite music or the weekend activities you enjoy the most.

Then, as you become more relaxed, you can start to share more personal details, such as a former struggle or life experience that has affected you.

Overcoming the fear of self-disclosure may be challenging, but in the end, it pays off in the form of healthy, enduring relationships.

Reasons Why People Share More

The reciprocal process of self-disclosure is rather critical for all kinds of relationships.

When individuals in a relationship gradually reveal themselves to each other while communicating their feelings and experiences, they build confidence and understanding between each other.

This give-and-take sharing between people also leads to emotional intimacy. Self-disclosure benefits are so powerful that research has found it is linked to better relationship happiness, whereby mates feel a more profound sense of love and commitment.

And even when a relationship is not romantic in essence, a specific degree of self-disclosure is necessary to build trust. People may fear that sharing too much private information is harmful in a relationship, but the truth is that couples cannot grow in intimacy and trust without a good amount of self-disclosure.

Relationships platonic in nature also struggle to develop if people in the relationship are not willing to share life details with each other. This makes self-disclosure definitely one of the most essential components of lasting, beneficial relationships.

Factors That Influence Self-Disclosure

Researchers have found that several different factors can have an impact on self-disclosure. Overall, personality can play an important role. People who are naturally extroverted and have an easier time forming relationships with others are more likely to self-disclose early on in a relationship.

People who are reserved or naturally introverted tend to take much more time getting to know others, which is most times influenced by their disposition to hold back on disclosing things about themselves.

These individuals generally only self-disclose to people they know well, but their lack of self-disclosure can often make it challenging for others to get to know them.

Mood is another factor that can affect how much personal information people choose to share with others. Researchers have found that people in a happy mood are more likely to self-disclose than those in a negative mood.

This is because being in a pleasant mood leads people to be more optimistic and confident while being in a poor mood makes people feel more restrained and discreet.

We also see that lonely people also tend to self-disclose a lot less than people who do not feel they are lonely. Sadly, this lack of self-disclosure can make it more challenging for people to get to know those who experience loneliness, which can deepen that individual's feelings of isolation.

Researchers have also found that sometimes certain situations where people are worried or afraid of something can heighten how much they share with others, most times as a way to gain support and ease these fears.

How we position ourselves against others can also affect how much we choose to self-disclose. People tend to compare themselves based on how they judge themselves to others.

If one feels one compares well with those around, one is more likely to disclose one's skills, knowledge, abilities, and talents. If one feels like other people are superior in these areas, one will probably be less likely to reveal these aspects of oneself.

Researchers have also uncovered that the concern about self-disclosure is one of the most common reasons people fail to pursue therapy when they require help. Therapy consists of a great deal of self-disclosure, and therapy clients often need to communicate some of the most personal and painful details about themselves with their therapist.

For those awkward with self-disclosure, this can be a horrifying task that makes them less likely to seek support when needed.

What if One Partner Does Not Want to Self-Disclose?

There are many benefits of self-disclosure in relationships, but individuals who have a fear of self-disclosure may find that their relationships could deteriorate over time.

People can grow apart

Say that you got married or you are in a long-term romantic relationship. People could realize that they begin to grow apart if they do not self-disclose with each other.

Over time, with such a lack of personal disclosure, married couples or long-term partners could begin to feel like they do not even know each other anymore. Anytime they are together, awkward silence fills the room.

Relationships can break apart

Understandably, without self-disclosure, relationships can break apart and eventually end. This should not take anyone by surprise, especially since we learned that self-disclosure predicts marital satisfaction.

Likewise, without self-disclosure, relationships will be without the closeness and trust essential to keep two people connected over the long term through life's struggles.

Connections do not evolve

Additionally, when there is a lack of self-disclosure in any kind of0 relationship, they will come to a screeching halt.

The association will grow and evolve without the bond and closeness that comes from sharing personal details. Therefore, it remains stagnant, and partners may begin to sense that they cannot trust each other or are no longer special to one another. 

A member of a relationship may start to feel that their partner is excluding them from their thoughts and feelings when there is a lack of self-disclosure - one can use the term "shutting you out."

One partner may feel unwanted and unneeded, leading to loneliness and resentment. Some of these truths about self-disclosure apply not just to romantic relationships but also to friendships and the workplace.

Over time, two people who try to avoid self-disclosure will drift apart as they lose their trust and connection. This is why self-disclosure is such a crucial part of all relationships. 

However, as we stated before, self-disclosure in a friendship or a workplace connection will understandably look distinct from self-disclosure with a long-term partner or significant other.

For example, there are things you would share with your spouse that you would not convey to your boss at work.

The Benefits of Self-Disclosure

self-disclosure is one of the most powerful components of romantic and platonic relationships due to the fact that it creates a connection between two individuals and helps the bond strengthen over time with constant communication and self-disclosure.

Here are seven ways self-disclosure positively affects relationships:

Feeling special 

Sharing personal details of your life with one's partner will make them feel special since one trusted them enough to reveal parts of oneself to them. This unmistakably makes for a stronger connection.

Improved trust 

When individuals partake in mutual self-disclosure, meaning all members of the relationship share personal details, trust is fortified within the relationship. This makes the connection a safer space for all individuals involved.

Stronger attraction

When one shares personal details of our life with others, people will feel drawn to this kind of person, creating stronger feelings of attraction.

In a relationship, being available and vulnerable enough to participate in self-disclosure with one's partner can increase one's partner's interest in oneself.

Growing the relationship 

In the early stages of a relationship, one tends to be more hesitant about revealing personal details. Still, as time goes on and one builds trust, and one will likely start to self-disclose more confidential information. This helps the bond to grow and develop instead of remaining stationary.

Maintaining the relationship 

Since relationships cannot evolve without reciprocal self-disclosure, self-disclosure in relationships helps individuals to stay together over a more extended period of time.

Feelings of acceptance

Opening up to one's partner and sharing one's vulnerabilities can help anyone reach the feeling of acceptance.

When one shares personal struggles or insecurities, and one's partner continues to welcome these, this will, in turn, lead one to self-acceptance. The same can be said for one's partner when one accepts their self-disclosures without judgment.

Support

Sharing the most personal details of one's life, including experiences, fears, and beliefs, provides one and one's partner with substantial support.

About the Author

Mia Belle Frothingham is a Harvard undergraduate in her senior year majoring in Biology & Psychology. She is a passionate author, science communicator, and aspiring astrobiologist and astronaut with a great interest in clinical, cognitive, and behavioral psychology.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Frothingham, M.B. (2022, June 15). How Self-Disclosure Affects Relationships. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/how-does-self-disclosure-influence-relationships.html

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