Does Your Partner Know the Real You?
Hiding your flaws early on can jeopardize your chance of long-term success.
Posted Jul 20, 2016
Throughout the courting process, we have ample motive to self-enhance. After all, we've just met someone wonderful who makes our heart flutter. For evolutionary reasons, our brains are wired to see a new love interest as more wonderful than they actually are because, when it comes to mate selection, wearing rose-colored glasses helps us bond. Naturally, we want the object of our affection to think that we are wonderful, too. Consciously or otherwise, we enhance the most positive aspects of ourselves to control the impression we make while simultaneously guiding the perception our new love has of us. We do this while downplaying our flaws and keeping our skeletons hidden deep in our closet, particularly if we have a negative view of ourselves to begin with.
In the short-term, having a partner who thinks highly of the enhanced version of us makes us feel closer to him or her, because we like knowing that the person we are beginning to love holds us in high esteem. As the relationship progresses into the long-term, a motive known as self-verification appears. Self-verification is the need to know that we are seen for who we really are according to our self-concept, not just the impression we make. When settled into a relationship, we shift from wanting to receive praise, which is why we may self-enhance, to wanting to be intimately known for who we are. Having a partner who loves us despite of our faults becomes more important in creating a close bond than having a partner who sees the enhanced version of us: It makes sense that this phenomenon is known as the marriage shift.
Let's say that we know that we tend to be more than a little selfish. Knowing that selfishness is usually not well received, during the dating stage we may self-enhance to tone down that trait. While still in the early dating stages, if our partner compliments us and enhances our self-image by saying, "Honey, you are so selfless," we might feel closer to the partner because he or she thinks fondly of us. However, as time goes on and the relationships builds, if our partner can't see us as we see ourselves, then that original closeness, built on self-enhancing compliments, erodes. This happens because we think that our partner can't see us for who we really are, and the love he or she has for us is built on a house of self-enhanced cards. Over time, if our partner sees that we are more selfish than we first let on and loves us anyway, we feel a deeper bond in the relationship because there is more truth in how our partner perceives us, more authenticity in the relationship, and more genuineness in our partner's feelings.
Love grows when we feel intimately known and accepted.
You avoid the "marriage shift" by lessening the management of your own impression as soon as possible in the early stages of a relationship and trying—as so many wise men and women before me have advised—to just be yourself. People who have negative self-views are more likely to self-enhance and wait until a relationship is secure to begin self-verifying. If you have a strong, negative self-view, work on improving your view of yourself before entering into a new relationship.
Remember: The goal is not to win someone over or attain his or her love by pretending to be what you think he or she may want, but to establish a healthy, caring and respectful relationship. You can pretend to be someone you are not for only so long. Instead, focus on the end goal—creating a lasting, happy, and stable partnership. The only way this is possible is to make sure your partner sees you for who you really are, and that he or she loves you not only in spite of your flaws, but because of them.
- Knee, C. R., Nanayakkara, A., Vietor, N. A., Neighbors, C., & Patrick, H. (2001). Implicit theories of relationships: Who cares if romantic partners are less than ideal? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(7), 808-819.
- Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996). The benefits of positive illusions: Idealization and the construction of satisfaction in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 79.
- Swann Jr, W. B., De La Ronde, C., & Hixon, J. G. (1994). Authenticity and positivity strivings in marriage and courtship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(5), 857.
- Wood, J. V., Tesser, A., & Holmes, J. G. (Eds.). (2013). The Self and Social Relationships. Psychology Press.
© Mariana Bockarova, PhD