3. Affective stage
In this stage of SPT, communicators develop a deeper understanding of each other as more layers are peeled away. Here our complete personality is almost revealed to the other person. Communication involves personal topics and distinctive, more individualized mannerisms. In this stage, close friendships and romantic relationships begin to form and we become more comfortable to criticize or argue with each other.
“In this stage, disclosure is casual and spontaneous, and this stage reflects further commitment and a level of comfort,” explain Carpenter and Greene. They add “The affective exchange stage may also include the initiation of conflict.”
4. Stable stage
In this stage, the communicators have reached the central layer and share everything with each other. The core of a person’s personality is exposed at this level. The relationship we share in this disclosure stage is open, honest, and comfortable. This stage is “characterized by openness, breadth, and depth across conversation topics,” write Carpenter and Greene.
“The most intimate information about the private self is continuously disclosed at this stage. This stage is characterized by honesty and intimacy, a high degree of spontaneity, and open expression of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” they add. At this level, there are only a few relationships, mostly with romantic partners, best friends and close family members.
This happens when we believe that the cost of self-disclosure is much more than the benefits it offers. As we withdraw and avoid self-disclosure, the relationship comes to an end. “Social depenetration, de‐escalation, or dissolution, is also possible when self‐disclosure is reduced as a result of interpersonal conflict and relational stressors,” explain Carpenter and Greene.
They write “Social depenetration is the deliberate closing off of some portions of a
person’s life to his or her partner. This dissolution process can signal relationship disintegration or relationship renegotiation.” This signals a breakup or a divorce for romantic partners and friends drifting away from each other.
Assessing rewards and costs of self-disclosure
With self-disclosure comes vulnerability and with vulnerability comes some great costs. Hence, how much you decide to disclose about yourself to someone will entirely depend on the reward-cost assessment of the outcome. If the reward is more than the cost, then we will choose to share personal and intimate information. This can make sharing a more open and personal experience leading to a stronger relationship, better physical and emotional intimacy and clearer communication with your partner.
However, when someone reacts negatively to the information we share and uses it to criticize and demean us, which can be common in an argument between romantic partners, then it can lead to feelings of mistrust, betrayal, manipulation. This is the result of why most couples separate and end their relationships. Disclosure will happen only when rewards exceed the cost.
According to an article published by the Oregon State University, “The decision to disclose is based on the perceived rewards the person will gain if he or she discloses information. If a person perceives that the cost of disclosing information is greater than the rewards for disclosing information then no information will be disclosed. The larger the reward-cost ratio the more disclosure takes place.”
Applying SPT in your life
If you want to implement social penetration theory in your life and relationships without making things overly complicated, then you need to focus on having both breadth and depth in information exchanges with your partner. Breadth without depth will lead to a shallow relationship without any real emotional connection, while depth without breadth will affect the longevity of the connection and the relationship. Although it is possible to have a relationship with breadth without depth or depth without breadth.
However, it is crucial that you remember to progress through the process in a slow and steady manner. Remember the Onion Analogy? You need to peel away one layer at a time and expose your personality gradually to the other person. If you try to skip a few layers or speed through the process, then not only will you make the other person feel confused, you will also reach the depenetration stage sooner than you think.
If you wish to have both breadth and depth in disclosure in your relationships, then you and the other person need to develop your social and communication skills. Not only you need to have the willingness and interest to open up, but you also need to know how to express yourself and talk to one another.
Develop closeness through self-disclosure
Social Penetration Theory offers an effective and comprehensible explanation of how important intimacy is in relationships and how we can use closeness to build stronger romantic relationships and friendships through self-disclosure.
“Self-disclosure can be a very useful skill, but only if employed properly,” explains Dr. Barbara LoFrisco, a licensed mental health counselor and family therapist. She believes that self-disclosure should be more about showing the other person how you can relate to their life experiences, instead of simply talking about you. Barbara adds “Self-disclosure in therapy is when a therapist shares their own personal views or experience with a client with the purpose of improving the client’s emotional or mental state. It should be done solely for the purpose of helping the client, and not to meet the needs of the therapist.”
Now that you have a better idea about how SPT can help you and how you can use it in your own life, you will be better able to create more intimacy and build lasting relationships
Read also: 6 Ways to Get Closer As A Loving Couple