Relationship Authenticity in Early Adult Couples: Implication for Couple Therapy

Relationship Authenticity in Early Adult Couples: Implication for Couple Therapy


Authenticity is acting and expressing oneself in ways that are consistent with inwardly experienced values, desires, and emotions (Harter, 2002). Although authenticity seems largely an individual process, authenticity researchers (Neff & Harter, 2002) found that authentic self-expression depends on feeling valued and accepted by others. Moreover, it is not only close interpersonal relationships that affect authenticity but also larger socio-cultural issues such as gender, power, and autonomy affect authenticity (Ryan & Deci, 2004).

Knowing and acting according to ourselves has been seen as a moral imperative throughout history (Harter, 2002). Within humanistic and existential psychology, individual differences in authenticity have been considered critically important to understanding, well-being and free from psychopathology. That is why different psychologists give emphasis to authenticity. For example, Erikson (1968), described authenticity as one of the seals of identity achievement. Maslow (1970) described it as an essential component of mental health and psychological change. Lopez and Rice (2006) explained it as a key component of interpersonal functioning and healthy relationships.

Theorists and researchers faced with a longstanding disagreement about the operational definition of authenticity due to lack of empirical research.

Winnicott (1960) an object relation therapist distinguished true and false self-experiences. He argued that when early care giving failed to affirm and support the child’s unique needs and feelings, alienated from these authentic self-experience and develops a false self, based on compliance with parental wishes or threats and disapproval. Similarly, Rogers (1951) posited that the child’s experience of “conditions of self worth” in early relationship with care givers directly obstruct the normative unfolding of positive authentic and congruent self. Therefore, both Winnicott and Rogers believed in obdurate existence of core self /authentic self/.

On the other hand, Gergen (1991) and Mitchell (1992) have rejected the notion that an obdurate, core self exists. Instead they emphasized a temporal rather than a spatial view where in the self is the subjective organization of meanings a person creates as he/she moves through time and experience, affective states and engages in cognitive, dialogue and reflective processes. Mitchell (1992) conceptualized authenticity as relationship a specific phenomenon that likely reflects the interpersonal goals of each participant. Based on this, intimate adult relationship represent a unique context for the study of authenticity as participants in this relationship are presumably in the shared enterprise of deeping each other’s accurate knowledge of appreciation for their most personal and private self-views and self-understanding (Aron, 2003).

Kernis (2003), although continuing to favor an individual differences view of the construct proposed that authenticity incorporate awareness, unbiased processing, action and a relational (italics) orientation. Regarding to the relational component, he argued that;

Relational authenticity involves endorsing the importance for close others to see the real you, good and bad.  Toward that end, authentic relations involve a selective process of self-disclosure and the development of mutual intimacy and trust. In short, relationship authenticity is being genuine and not “fake” in ones relationship with others (p.5).

Having these arguments in mind, …