Blog Short #35: One important thing that helps a relationship succeed.
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
There are many factors that contribute to the success and health of a romantic relationship, especially a long-term one like marriage.
Today I want to focus on just one factor that I think is quite important, and often not taken into consideration as much as it should be. In a word – authenticity.
Authenticity in a relationship means you can be your real self with your partner. You can truly express your thoughts, feelings, personality, values, desires, issues, and idiosyncrasies without condemnation.
That doesn’t mean that all your behaviors are okay, but rather that you can talk to your partner about where you’re stuck and what you need. It means sharing the deepest parts of yourself with your partner and vice versa.
Research has backed up the importance of authenticity in terms of both longevity and satisfaction in marriage. One study in particular honed in on two components that help a long-term relationship flourish. These are unacceptability of deception and intimate risk-taking. Let’s go through them.
Unacceptability of Deception
This refers to the desire to be truly known by our partners for who we are, and conversely to truly know our partners for who they are. People who desire this level of authenticity want:
- To be able to communicate with openness and honesty, and to have frank conversations without secrets or hidden agendas.
- Truthfulness even when what’s revealed is conflictual or disappointing.
- Exposure and acknowledgement of both our strengths and weaknesses.
This refers to taking the risk to reveal our deepest selves to each other; not just occasionally, but regularly. In other words:
- No topic is off limits for discussion.
- The most intimate parts of ourselves are safe to reveal to each other.
- Our deepest desires, fears, and needs can be expressed and heard.
Being authentic means that we feel safe enough to expose ourselves, even in conflict, and we trust each other enough to work through anything that arises.
The Role of Power
In order for us to be authentic with our partners, we must feel that the balance of power in the relationship is equal. In other words, one person can’t be subordinate to the other. When that’s the case, we hide things or keep secrets. Examples might be:
- Keeping something from your partner to avoid a conflict or reaction.
- Hiding your true feelings to avoid disapproval or disappointment.
- Doing more work in the relationship than you feel is your rightful share.
- Allowing your needs to go unattended, while catering to those of your partner.
- Being afraid to say what you really think for fear of retribution.
- Allowing your partner to make most of the decisions.
When one partner is more dominate than the other, and this pattern is allowed to persist, then authenticity is compromised as is the health of the relationship.
Why is authenticity so important?
We know what it means to be authentic and why it’s important for a relationship to thrive, but there’s another more fundamental reason that we desire to have someone know us intimately and without judgment. That’s the need to have someone fully witness our lives.
It’s a primal need humans have. We know we exist and we know who we are, but when someone else knows it, it feels more real. We feel validated. That’s why we seek out intimate relationships, whether they be of a romantic nature or with a parent or family member or friend.
We need to be known, be seen, be accepted, and be connected.
Being authentic, accepted, and loved at the same time meets that primary need in a way that nothing else quite does.
What you can do now.
With all that in mind, how can you increase the level of authenticity in your relationship right now?
If you feel you already have it, great! Keep it going and continue to reveal deeper parts of yourself as you go.
But if you don’t, start by thinking about why. Make two lists (both partners should do this exercise):
- What keeps you from being totally who you are with your partner? Include in that historical issues like dysfunctional patterns you learned growing up, as well as current relationship patterns with your partner. What’s the power balance between you? Especially hone in on your fears. What are you afraid of if you reveal more of who you are and what you think?
- Ask the same questions regarding your partner? What keeps him or her from being authentic with you? Do you have a part in that? What do you think might be an issue for your partner that interferes?
Using these lists, start having conversations about what you’ve both discovered. Ask each other what prevents you from being authentic, and what would make each of you more comfortable?
The one rule for these conversations is that they can’t be used to argue. They should be an exercise in mutual exploration and curiosity.
The goal for you both is:
To learn how to let each other say and express true thoughts and feelings without judgment or rebuttal, and to keep practicing that until it’s easy and automatic.
In other words,
Get good at listening to understand.
Have some conversations that have nothing to do with areas of conflict. Talk about what you each think about every day, what your experiences are like, your interests, what you hope for in the future, things you would like to change, and so forth. Get to truly know each other.
Even if you feel distant, you can begin to increase your authenticity. Your relationship will start to improve and deepen as a result.
Those couples who have been together for 40 and 50 years, and seem so close to each other, have worked at it. And they will almost always tell you it was worth it.
That’s all for this Monday. As always, I hope you have a great week!
All my best,
PS – Suggested reading to work on your own authenticity is a book called Authentic by Stephen Joseph. It’s got some great exercises in it along with good information.