For Better Relationships, Just Be Yourself

Humans have evolved to have committed social bonds for raising offspring. (Image credit: Stock.xchng.)

When it comes to romance, the advice to "be yourself" might be right on, according to new research.

The study looked at how peoples' ability to stay true to themselves — including seeing themselves clearly and objectively, acting in ways consistent with their beliefs, and interacting honestly and truthfully with others — affected their relationships.

The results show that those who reported being more true to themselves also reported more positive dating relationships.

"If you're true to yourself, it is easier to act in ways that build intimacy in relationships, and that's going to make your relationship more fulfilling," said study author Amy Brunell, professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Newark campus.

The study involved 62 heterosexual couples, all college students. The participants completed questionnaires in three separate sessions that took place about two weeks apart.

In the first part of the study, participants rated items meant to measure their "dispositional authenticity," or how true they were to themselves, such as: "For better or for worse, I am aware of who I truly am."

In the second phase, participants answered questions examining various aspects of their relationship functioning, including their willingness to discuss their emotions with their partner, and whether they kept secrets.

The third phase involved measures of relationship satisfaction and personal well-being.

Overall, men and women who reported being more true to themselves also behaved in more intimate and less destructive ways with their partner, and felt their relationship was more positive. In addition, those who were more authentic also reported greater personal well-being.

But the study revealed an interesting gender difference in how authenticity in men and women affected their partners, Brunell said.

Men who were more true to themselves had partners who showed more healthy relationship behaviors.  However, the reverse was not true: there was no significant relationship between women being true to themselves and men's relationship behaviors.

That finding might be the result of relationship gender roles in our society, she said.

"Typically in dating and marital relationships, the women tend to be 'in charge' of intimacy in the relationship," Brunell explained.

"So when men have this dispositional authenticity, and want to have an open, honest relationship, it makes women's job easier — they can more easily regulate intimacy," she said.

Since men have less of a role in developing relationship intimacy, they were not affected as much by whether their partners were true to themselves or not, Brunell figured.

Staying true to yourself doesn't mean you should accept all of your flaws and not try to make positive changes in your life, Brunell said. But you should be aware of both your limitations and areas where you can improve. One payoff could be better romantic relationships.

The results were published online March 5 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Live Science Staff
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