Breaking the ice : vulnerable disclosure in newly formed romantic relationships



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



People in newly formed romantic relationships often grapple with the choice to disclose or not disclose vulnerable information to their romantic partner. The current longitudinal study used Communication Privacy Management Theory (CPM) and appraisal theories of emotion to explore speakers’ experience of vulnerable disclosure from anticipation through enactment. To better understand the meaning of ‘vulnerability’ in interpersonal interaction, this study offered a conceptual definition of vulnerability, tested a four factor construct of vulnerability, and assessed the extent to which speakers felt eleven affective states prior to and following a vulnerable disclosure. Post interaction affective states and partner response discrepancies were evaluated to further probe the individual and relational outcomes of vulnerable disclosure. Lastly, connections were examined between speakers’ perceived risk and benefit of disclosing, perceived risk and benefit of not disclosing, and decision to disclose/not disclose. Findings suggested that speakers felt more negative affect than positive affect prior to disclosure. More specifically, speakers felt fear more than the remaining eight discrete affective states. Speakers who felt negative after disclosure were more likely to distance themselves from their relationship, whereas speakers who felt positive were not. Furthermore, relational distancing was less likely to occur when partners responded with more reciprocity or responsiveness than speakers anticipated. Moreover, speakers who received more responsiveness than they anticipated were more likely to report less negative affect following a vulnerable interaction. Results also demonstrated links between speakers’ perceived risk of disclosing and benefit of not disclosing as well speakers’ perceived benefit of disclosing and risk of not disclosing. Contrary to previous research, perceived risk of disclosing did not predict speakers’ decision to disclose/not disclose vulnerable information. Those who indicated greater risk than reward for not disclosing were more likely to disclose. Further inspection on risk demonstrated that speakers thought engaging in vulnerable disclosure would put their partner at risk more than themselves or their relationship. Despite differences in magnitude, risk type (i.e., self, partner, relationship) did influence speakers’ decisions to disclose/not disclose. Findings are discussed in accordance with study limitations and contributions to existing research.


LCSH Subject Headings