22 - Self-Disclosure in Personal Relationships  pp. 409-428

Self-Disclosure in Personal Relationships

By Kathryn Greene, Valerian J. Derlega and Alicia Mathews

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The following stories deal with thoughts and feelings about the self, and they illustrate dilemmas about whether to reveal highly personal information about oneself to significant others (a friend, a spouse or lover, and parents). If the following statements were true of you, would you share this material? If so, when, how, with whom, and in what detail?

  • I started dating a new guy from work, and it's still very exciting. We're taking it slow, so we haven't told many people. I wonder what will happen when they find out?
  • I am really unhappy and unmotivated most of the time. My friends see me as a happy person. They also see me as a goal-oriented person. The only person whom I can tell about how I really feel is my husband.
  • I got a great job offer in Atlanta last week. I want to talk to my girlfriend about it, but she wants to stay here, so I don't know what I'd say.
  • I am a gay man, but I have never talked to my parents about my sexual orientation.

In this chapter, we examine individuals' decision making about what, when, to whom, and how much to disclose personal feelings and thoughts. Although level of self-disclosure and personal relationships are not synonymous concepts, self-disclosure plays an important role in constructing what kind of relationships individuals have with each another (Harvey & Omarzu, 1997; Prager, 1995; Reis & Shaver, 1988).

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