Eriksonian ego identity and intimacy in marital relationships

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The major purpose of this study was to test Erik Erikson's epigenetic concept that the achievement of a reasonable sense of ego identity during adolescence is a prerequisite to the establishment of intimate relationships in adulthood.

The sample consisted of 400 couples. Their names were drawn from a population of 1600 names which had been compiled from twelve church directories. The adjusted sample was 378 couples of which 88 chose to participate by returning completed questionnaires. The participants were typically white, well educated, well employed, in first marriages and fairly consistent in religious attendance.

The project questionnaire was completed by both marital partners. It consisted of two scales and demographic questions. The Ego Identity Scale as developed by Rasmussen (1961) was used to measure the degree of identity obtained by all participants. The Personal Assessment of Intimacy in Relationships as developed by Olson and Schaefer (1981) was used to measure the degree of perceived intimacy on five dimensions within dyadic relationships.

The hypotheses tested were designed to examine Erikson's epigenetic theory. Briefly, it was hypothesized that (1) spouses would have similar levels of ego identity development; (2) the identity of one spouse would be related to the intimacy of the other; (3) an individual's ego identity would be related to his/her achieved intimacy; and (4) demographic variables would not be found to influence ego identity. Husband and wife models were also compared. The ego identity scores of spouses were found to be related; no relationship was found between the ego identity of one spouse and the perceived intimacy of the mate; a significant relationship was found to exist between an individual's degree of ego identity development and his/her perceived level of intimacy across five intimacy dimensions; and demographic variables were not found to influence ego identity development. Interesting similarities and differences were found between husband and wife models.

Generally, results reinforced Erikson's epigenetic concept. Further research was suggested to differentiate between male and female models and to assess the effectiveness of various therapeutic interventions by levels of couple identity development.