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Close Relationships and Health in Daily Life: A Review and Empirical Data on Intimacy and Somatic Symptoms

Stadler, Gertraud PhD; Snyder, Kenzie A. BA; Horn, Andrea B. PhD; Shrout, Patrick E. PhD; Bolger, Niall P. PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31825473b8
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Objective To review research on close relationships and health in daily life, with a focus on physiological functioning and somatic symptoms, and to present data on the within-person effects of physical intimacy on somatic symptoms in committed couples’ daily life. The empirical study tested whether prior change in physical intimacy predicted subsequent change in symptoms, over and above their concurrent association. In addition, the study tested if increasing and decreasing intimacy had asymmetric effects on symptom change.

Methods In this study, 164 participants in 82 committed couples reported physical intimacy and somatic symptoms once a day for 33 days.

Results Prior within-person change in intimacy predicted a subsequent reduction in symptoms; when a person’s intimacy increased from one day to the next day, then symptoms decreased over the following days (B = −0.098, standard error [SE] = 0.038, p = .013). This lagged effect of intimacy held over and above the association of concurrent change in intimacy and symptoms (B = −0.122, SE = 0.041, p = .004). The study found asymmetric effects of prior increase and decrease in intimacy; prior intimacy increase predicted reduced subsequent symptoms (B = −0.189, SE = 0.068, p = .047), whereas prior intimacy decrease was unrelated to subsequent symptoms (B = −0.003, SE = 0.063, not significant). There was no evidence for asymmetric effects of intimacy increase and decrease on concurrent symptom change.

Conclusions Close relationships exert influences on health in daily life, and part of this influence is due to intimacy.

Supplemental digital content is available in the text.

From the Department of Psychology (G.S., K.A.S., N.P.B.), Columbia University; Department of Psychology (P.E.S.), New York University, New York, New York; and Department of Psychology (A.B.H.), University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Gertraud Stadler, PhD, Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 219 Schermerhorn Hall, 1190 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10027. E-mail: stadler@psych.columbia.edu

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (www.psychosomaticmedicine.org).

Received for publication March 3, 2011; revision received February 2, 2012.

Copyright © 2012 by American Psychosomatic Society
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