Isolation and Intimacy Processes in Young Adult College Students: A Four Dimensional Model

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Isolation and Intimacy Processes in Young Adult College Students: A Four Dimensional Model

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Abstract The development of intimate relationships (especially during young adulthood) is a major concern to researchers, practitioners, and educators alike. The ways that we have studied and made sense of this phenomenon have evolved considerably – and continue to evolve over time. The study presented here sought to gain deeper understanding into the processes of developing romantic unions during this formative phase. Data consisted of 20 in-depth autobiographical papers written by students enrolled in a course focusing on intimate relationships at a large Midwestern University. A theory-guided, structured deductive content analysis produced five major findings: (1) isolation and intimacy are separate and concomitant processes; (2) there are four dimensions in the young adulthood stage: dystonic isolation (DIS), syntonic isolation (SIS), dystonic intimacy (DIN), and syntonic intimacy (SIN); (3) a pattern of pairing dimensions, (4) a pattern of seeking adaptive balance from one dimension to another dimension; and (5) a pattern of seeking adaptive balance among all dimensions. The greatest amount of narrative was written about experiences of dystonic intimacy, followed by depictions of the psychosocial process of moving from dystonic isolation to syntonic isolation. The manners in which these findings can inform the development of an assessment tool that purposefully evaluates these four dimensions, implications for clinicians working with young adults, and directions for educators who teach about intimacy are addressed in the discussion. Keywords: college students, psychosocial development, intimacy, isolation, personal narrative, romantic relationship development, university students, young adulthood


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2015. Major: Family Social Science. Advisors: Paul Rosenblatt, Tai Mendenhall. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 87 pages.

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Newell, Jane. (2015). Isolation and Intimacy Processes in Young Adult College Students: A Four Dimensional Model. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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