Be Yourself, Be Happier with Others

New research finds that if you're true to yourself, you're more likely to be satisfied with your spouse or significant other.

March 22, 2010

Keep it real: Being true to yourself is good for your relationships.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Shakespeare usually gets it right. His famous advice in Hamlet, “to thine own self be true,” continues to pay dividends to this day, suggests a recent study on relationships. Subjects who reported being more true to themselves also tended to be involved in healthier, more positive relationships.

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THE DETAILS: Participating in the study were 62 college-age couples, each of whom completed several detailed questionnaires about themselves and their relationships. Those who were most true to themselves on a consistent basis also tended to be in the healthiest, smoothest-functioning relationships, and reported a greater sense of well-being. Interestingly, when a man was true to himself, this tended to influence his partner to feel more positive about their relationship. But when a woman was true to herself, this didn’t seem to influence her partner's positive feelings about the relationship (though it had other benefits).

WHAT IT MEANS: If you can be true to yourself, both you and your partner will benefit. “For both men and women, being true to self led them to feel more positive about their own relationships,” explains study lead author Amy Brunell, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University, Newark. “However, we found a man’s trueness to be associated with his partner’s relationship satisfaction, but not vice versa.”

That could be due to the different roles that men and women tend to take on in a relationship. “Women tend to be the ‘regulators’ or ‘keepers’ of intimacy in the partnership,” continues Brunell. “When women have partners who strive for openness and honesty, it makes their job of regulating intimacy easier. For example, it becomes easier for her to disclose things to a man who wants closeness." Men, famously, are less likely to disclose their thoughts and feelings, and having a partner who's true to herself may not be enough to move the needle.

But being true to one's self does seem to strengthen their relationship. So how do you know if you’re being true to yourself, and how can you improve if you’re not so good at it?

Read on to find out.

Assessing your trueness

Brunell believes this can be done through simple self-exploration. For example, by asking yourself the following sorts of questions:

• Do I normally behave in ways that are consistent with how I view myself, or do I go along with the crowd?

• Do I often pretend to enjoy things I really don't enjoy?

• Do I frequently pretend to agree with others when I really disagree?

If your answers point toward being less than truthful, don’t worry—these are common behaviors (and, let's face it, sometimes we all need to swim with the tide). But there are ways to improve your trueness.

Brunell offers this three-step plan for becoming more true to yourself:

Step 1—Be aware. Admit to yourself, at least, that the only reason you go golfing is because you like the pants.

Step 2—Behave honestly. Do your best to behave in ways that reflect who you are and what you feel. If the rest of the office dresses down but you like wearing ties, try wearing one now and then.

Step 3—Speak up. If you disagree with your friends or your partner, say so. You don't have to start a debate, but by putting it out there you've shown that you trust them enough to say what you really think. And who knows, maybe you're not the only one who's sick of eating lunch at that same Lithuanian deli four times a week.

Brunell believes there’s no reason why her study findings would only apply to young, unmarried couples. “I believe married couples, friends, and family can benefit as well by connecting with their true selves and seeking honest and open relationships with others,” says Brunell. “These are all keys to forming close relationships.”