Does Your Partner See the Real You?

New research on the value of authenticity in romance.

Posted Jan 19, 2015

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We’ve all heard the advice, “Be yourself,” but how does that really play out in romantic relationships? Is it better to be 100%, authentically you all the time, or is a little false-self sometimes appropriate?

Psychologists weren’t the first to consider the issue of self-authenticity—philosophers have long contemplated the issue. And yet, authenticity is a profoundly contemporary question, one that we’re learning more about all the time.

Scientists have defined authenticity in different ways: Some emphasize ideas like self-awareness and unbiased mental processing (Kernis & Goldman, 2006), while others highlight authentic living, freedom from self-alienation, and accepting influences (Wood, Maltby, Balionis, & Joseph, 2008). Recently, scholars have focused on the interpersonal aspects of authenticity, thinking specifically about two facets (Lopez & Rice, 2006):

  1. Unacceptability of Deception. Are you OK with you or your partner presenting a deceptive “false front"? Would you rather your partner have a favorable impression of you, or know the real you? What do you think your partner would want?
  2. Intimate Risk Taking. How comfortable are you with being vulnerable and revealing your true self? Are you 100% yourself when you’re around your partner? Is your partner 100% himself or herself around you?

It can be intimidating to think deeply about these questions. Being your true self is risky: it opens up the door to rejection. But authenticity also makes it possible to have a deep, honest connection, one supported by acceptance and understanding.

The development of a new, shorter measure of these components of interpersonal authenticity reestablishes their underlying importance (Wickham, Reed, & Williamson, 2015). It seems that being yourself and believing your partner is also behaving authentically matters in healthy romantic functioning.

So: Why be authentic? Why prioritize accuracy over false fronts? The evidence suggests that being yourself is associated with higher self-esteem and need satisfaction in relationships and is inversely related to avoidant attachment (Wickham et al., 2015). But authenticity is not only associated with personal factors, but also components of your relationship.

For example, self-authenticity and perceived partner authenticity relate to how much trust there is within your relationship, in particular how much you’re able to comfortably depend on your partner. Such trust drives overall relationship satisfaction and commitment (Wickham et al., 2015). While current research on this topic is primarily correlational, it offers the hypothesis that fostering authenticity may promote healthy relationship functioning.

The take-home? Building a relationship in which you can comfortably be yourself may be a great start to a satisfying partnership. Finding a way to support your partner’s authenticity may also benefit the overall quality of your relationship.

So take a risk, be yourself, and see what happens.

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Kernis, M. H., & Goldman, B. M. (2006). A multicomponent conceptualization of authenticity: Theory and research. Advances in experimental social psychology, 38, 283-357.

Lopez, F. G., & Rice, K. G. (2006). Preliminary development and validation of a measure of relationship authenticity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(3), 362-371.

Wickham, R. E., Reed, D. E., & Williamson, R. E. (2015). Establishing the psychometric properties of the Self and Perceived-partner Authenticity in Relationships Scale-Short Form (AIRS-SF): Measurement invariance, reliability, and incremental validity. Personality and Individual Differences, 77, 62-67.

Wood, A. M., Linley, P. A., Maltby, J., Baliousis, M., & Joseph, S. (2008). The authentic personality: A theoretical and empirical conceptualization and the development of the Authenticity Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(3), 385-399.

Photo credit: Mo Riza