University of Oxford

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, the leading authentic researcher, Harter defines authenticity operationally as a fluid and dynamic process of expressing one’s self in ways that are consistent with inward values, emotions and desires (Harter, 2002).  It is not challenging to see two selves from this definition. There is a true self, which is expressed as inward values, emotions and desires and flexibility on self, which is expressed related to external factors/demands/.  Consequently, true selves and false selves are expressed in different relational context, which she terms as “multiple selves”.  Moreover, Harter notes that an important and complex developmental task is identifying and expressing the “real me” that does not feel false, while also achieving a self that is flexible and adaptable.

From Harter’s perspective, discovering how to achieve a balance between knowing one’s core authentic self and exhibiting flexibility in different social contexts is not only adaptive, but an important developmental milestone and an essential task of achieving a state of authenticity. Thus, as adolescents and adults engage in the expression of authentic self, they engage in a process that is individually determined, as well as situationally, temporally, relationally, and contextually bound (Harter, 2002;  Neff & Suizo, 2006).

Positioned on the operational definition of Harter, Lopez and Rice (2006) defined authenticity specifically in a romantic/couples’/ relationship. Authenticity in a romantic/couples’/ relationship is a relational schema. It favors the benefits of mutual and accurate exchanges of real self-experiences with ones intimate partner over the attendant risks of personal discomfort, partner disapproval or relationship instability. Authentic self-behavior is often inhibited or constrained by fears of partner’s rejection, lack of understanding or disapproval. Moreover, authenticity also inhibited by expectations that truthful disclosures will lead to conflict the person wishes to avoid.

On one hand, persons with strong orientation toward relationship authenticity should acknowledge that the benefits of honest self-presentations with an intimate partner clearly outweigh their potential risks and costs. They have clear orientation toward authenticity in relationship, and consciously avoid misrepresenting themselves to their partners. Moreover, they endorse a willingness to act on the relationship to correct inaccurate partner understanding of the self and should encourage and invite open and honest partner disclosures.

On the other hand, persons with under conditions of relationship threat who acknowledge weaker relationship authenticity orientation should be disposed toward false self-behaviors. This includes behaviors like incongruent or deceptive communications and be more likely to condone or even prefer similar behavior from their partners.

          In a study of authenticity in adult romantic relationships, Neff and Harter (2002) found that participants who were most preoccupied with maintaining a connection with their partners tended to resolve conflict by agreeing to their partners’ needs and being less authentic about their own needs. Related studies of the use of deception in intimate relationships have found that when partners engage in inauthentic behavior, it is frequently done so to avoid conflict or to avoid partner anger (Cole, 2001). In general, these findings suggest that cost-benefit appraisals influence the expression of authentic self in various types of relationships, and that these appraisals are partially informed by participants’ diligent and continual assessment of their relational partners’ approval or disapproval of “true-self.”

Other researchers have focused on the links between expressions of authentic self, personality traits, and attachment style. In a study exploring the relational behaviors of college students, Leak and Cooney (2001) asked participants to report on their levels of authenticity, their autonomy within their relationships, their level of self-determination in relationships and their attachment styles. Accordingly, the authors found positive relationships between high levels of autonomy and self-determination, secure attachment style and greater authenticity, as well as significant relationships between these four variables and several indices of positive psychological health and well-being.

Lopez and Rice (2006) found consistent result which support other authenticity theorists and researchers, theorized that people who are less authentic in their intimate relationships do so because they are overly concerned with maintaining partner approval and avoiding conflict. They hypothesized that participants who reported having a less authentic interaction style have been reported that they have less satisfaction in their relationships, and suggested that hiding one’s true self would not have the positive effects on relationships participants intend them to have.

Moreover, Lopez and Rice (2006) based on college sample students who reported involving in romantic relationship found that female participants reported being significantly more authentic in their relationships than males. However, contrary to Lopez and Rice, Downing’s (2008) finding showed that no difference between men and women in authentic self-expression. She emphasized and suggested biological sex did not contribute to authenticity.  

Types of couples’ relationship also affect the expression of self in authentic manner. Swann, De La Ronde, and Hixon (1994) explored differences in how people want their partners to view them, authentically versus positively. They presented the hypothesis that long-term, committed marital relationships offer people an important environment in which to act authentically, receive self-verification feedback, and grow.

On the same concept, Dawning (2008) suggested that dating is a time of mutual evaluation and relatively weak commitment, and that this relationship construct consists of a continual quest for acceptance. However, marriage symbolically ends the period of evaluation, and that after marriage or commitment, partners’ mutual trust grows, their levels of investment in their partners’ development as a person deepens, and their perspectives on each other become relatively sophisticated. Consequently authentic self-expression increases when relationship strengthens in marriage than dating relationship.  This is to say as one matures and self-concepts become stable, self-verifying evaluations by partners tend to be viewed as a testament to one’s authenticity during marriage. However, non-verifying evaluations are associated with feelings of in jeopardy and discomfort, regardless of the evaluation content.

In many mainstream psychology perspectives, authenticity is seen as the most fundamental aspect of well-being, healthy development and healthy functioning. Since authenticity develops from early childhood due to the conditional regard of children activity by caregivers, it is advisable to focus on it for healthy human development.

On one hand, researches on the construct authenticity are scant either globally or in Ethiopia. On the other hand, this recent and important phenomenon needs exploration on how people are functioning in their couples’ relationship. It is always advocated that both men and women should be self-confident, assertive, honest etc. in their relationship. However, authenticity in relationship between couples has not been studied adequately and literatures are very limited.  Therefore, this study intends to fill the gap and to give insights on the construct AIRS for early adult couples in Ethiopia.

Objectives of the Study

 The main aims of this study are (1) identifying (validating) the factor-solutions of the construct authenticity in early adult couples’ relationship, (2) investigating the relative importance of the factor-solutions of authenticity, (3) investigating the influence of demographic variable on authentic self-expression in couples relationship and (4) investigating the effect of relationship types on authenticity in couples’ relationship.

   Method

       Research Design

A non-experimental descriptive survey design using quantitative methods was used to investigate the variable of interest.

      Population

Sixty-three participants, male (n=36) and female (n=27) between age 25 and 36, were participated in the survey. Participation was open to people engaged in a marriage relationship (n=23), cohabited without marriage (n=20), intimates who neither married nor cohabited (n=10) and single (n=10), who were not currently in or never have been in couples relationship.

The rationale for including participants aged 25 to 36 was to explore the relationships between the variables of interest within one age cohort who were likely to have been exposed to similar cultural and mass media messages about intimate relationships and gender role norms. Moreover, the objective of this study is to investigate authenticity between early adult couple. Many developmental psychologists identified early adulthood as aged between 18 and 40 years old (Berk, 2007).  However, in recent decades, the transition to adulthood has lengthened as more people have entered college and graduate school and delayed making major life choices in the areas of career, marriage, and parenthood until their mid-to late twenties. The late teens through the mid-twenties have become a period in which people explore and experience changes in love, work, and worldviews and ultimately lay the foundation for their adult lives. This new phase of development between adolescence and adulthood in developmental psychology is emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2004). As a result, early adulthood with the age group between 25 and 36 were taken as appropriate for this study.

Therefore, the low end of the age range was chosen to restrict people who are in the stage of emerging adulthood (an important time of separation, individuation, and relational identity development) from participating, while the high end of the age range is meant to include people likely to have had at least one significant, long-term partner relationship. The demographic characteristics of the respondents are presented below.

        As it is seen in table 1, the ages of the 63 participants were ranged from 25 to 36 years old. Among these 57.2% of the respondents fall in the age range between 25 to 28 years, while 22.2% fall in the age range between 29-32 years. Twenty (20.6%) of the respondents were in the age range of 33-36 years old. Participants were also asked to report on their relationship types. Accordingly, about 36.5% of the respondents reported that they are married, 31.7% were reported that they were not married but cohabited, 15.9% reported they have intimates who neither married nor cohabited and 15.9% were single, not have couple relationship.

Sampling

Probability sampling which assumes equal chance for all the population to be selected as a sample was used. The target population of the study was postgraduate (masters) students in the College of Education and Behavioral Studies of Addis Ababa University (main campus). A batch (2003) was selected using simple random sampling from the two batches, 2003 and 2004, entrants. There are seven departments/ institutes in the college (main campus). Two departments were selected using simple random sampling which have 61 and 23 students respectively. The total sample size was estimated to be 84. However, eight participants were absent during data collection. Therefore, questionnaires were distributed to 76 participants. Among these 63 questionnaires were filled and returned which accounts 83% of the total.

 Data Collection Instruments

The researcher used demographic questionnaire to collect data on personal issues and a structured questionnaire to collect data on authenticity in couples’ relationship in early adulthood couples’.

Demographic questionnaire:  Participants were asked for information regarding age, sex, educational level, and types of relationship, which could be important for further analysis in this research.

Authenticity: The Authenticity in Relationships Scale (AIRS; Lopez & Rice, 2006) assesses the extent to which participants favor accurate and mutual exchanges about self-experiences with their intimate partners over the relational risks associated with discomfort, partner disapproval or rejection, and relationship instability or loss. The AIRS contains items consistent with general statements of authenticity in relationships (n=13), as well as two major constructs that emerged during factor analysis.  

1. Unacceptability of Deception (n=13), which assesses participants’ willingness to engage in, and accept, deceptive and inaccurate self- and partner representations, and

2. Intimate Risk-Taking (n=11), which assesses participants’ preferences or disposition towards uninhibited self-disclosure and risk-taking with one’s partner.

The 37-item AIRS employs a 9-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all descriptive of me) to 9 (very descriptive of me), and yields two subscale scores, a 13-item Unacceptability of Deception subscale score (UOD) and an 11-item Intimate Risk-Taking subscale score (IRT). The UOD score ranges from 13 to 117 and the IRT score ranges from 11 to 99; in each case, higher scores indicate a greater orientation towards authenticity in couples’ relationships. The full-length 37-item AIRS was administered and was examined via principal component analysis to explore how the items would hold in early adulthood population than the college student population upon which it was normed in different culture. It gives 10-items in unacceptability of deception (UOD), scores range from 10 to 90 and 10-items in intimate risk taking (IRT) which scores from 10 to 90.

Lopez and Rice reported the internal consistency reliability coefficients of UOD & IRT scales were .88 and .85 respectively. The, internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha) of the current study on unacceptability of deception and intimate risk taking is almost similar to the previous study which is .88 and .83 respectively.

                                                                                  

 Data Collection Procedure and Analysis

The items in the AIRS were adopted by carefully examining the wording and meaning of each item with the help of two PhD candidates in the department of Psychology, so that the items could fit with the context of the present study. Since the items in the construct prepared in other culture and language, the researcher tried to contextualize with the help of colleagues to some extent. The questionnaire was prepared in clear, precise and understandable manner so that each participant could answer it without ambiguity.

Moreover, the inventory had definite and clear instruction that urges respondents to be careful regarding to unfilled items and negligence. Eventually the researcher administered and collected the questionnaire. Supervision and necessary assistance provided while participants were filling the questionnaire.  

After the data had been collected from the respondents, it was sorted, organized and edited so that it could be easy and free of error for the analysis process. Statistical Package of Social Science version 17 (SPSS-17.0) were used for the analysis. Principal component analysis was used to reduce the variables, which measures authenticity in to factor solutions. Moreover, the principal component analysis was used to test the validity of the instrument in the current study population. Paired t-test was used to see the relative importance of the two sub-scales on the authenticity in couples’ relationship. Independent sample t-test was used to explore whether there is statistically significance difference between female and male participants on the expression of authenticity (both Unacceptability of deception and Intimate risk taking). One way ANOVA was used to explore the existence of statistically significant difference among types of relationships in the expression of authenticity. Moreover, the reliability of the construct to the current population was tested.

Results

 Factor Analysis

            To select the best factors of authenticity in relationship scale, principal component analysis method was used. In this method to determine the number of factors used in the analysis, scree plot was computed. The scree plot computation resulted in three tables. The first table is the communalities table that simply shows which variables have been included in the factor analysis. The second is the total variances, which explain components in decreasing order of importance. For each component the eigenvalue is given, along with the variance explained by that component and the total variance explained by a model using that many factors. The eigenvalues indicates how many times better than chance a particular component is at explaining the variation of the data. An Eigenvalue greater than 1, which is the default for most spss programs, was used in this study. The third is the visual display (graph) of the scree plot.

 In order to decide how many factors (components) should be used in the component analysis stage, one can start from the right hand and looking for the bigger vertical gap above an eigenvalue of one on the scree plot graph.  This has been done since there were controversies on the number of factors for authenticity in relationship scale in the previous studies (Lopez & Rice, 2006 and Downing, 2008). The present researcher therefore, found that on the scree plot the first discontinuity from the right is between component 2 and 3, which indicates Authenticity in Relationship Scale has two factors.   

         

Discussion

This section presents an overview and discussion of the results related to the research questions and objectives of the study. Limitations of the current study are also addressed followed by the implications of the findings with particular attention given for future research and practice.

The discussion of the result begins with a review of the principal component analysis and relationship found among variables depending on factor structure. It then moves to a discussion of findings related to the relative importance of the two-factor solution for authenticity in couples’ relationship. Moreover, the effects of sex differences and types of relationship on authenticity were explored using independent t-test and one way ANOVA respectively.

AIRS factor structure

The first objective of the study was intended to explore the factor structure of all 37 original items of the AIRS in the present study’s sample of 25-36 year old heterosexuals. As shown in the results section, the best solution for this sample (as indicated by the scree plot and component analysis) appeared to be a 20-item two-factor solution. This result is in line with the factor analysis done by Lopez and Rice on college-aged student samples (emerging adults).  They found that authenticity in relationship scale has two-factor solution, which contains unacceptability of deception that includes 13-items and intimate risk taking which contains 11-itmes. Although they did on relatively emerging adults, the result of the present study on early adults shows the same factor solution. The difference between the present study and Lopez and Rice is the number of items included in each component. In the present study, the first factor (unacceptability of deception) contains 10-items and the second component (intimate risk taking) contains 10-items too. 

However, research done on the same age sample of the current study, (Downing, 2008) results authenticity in a relationship scale identified authenticity as one-factor solution that contains 34 items. The 34 items in this one-factor solution appeared to tap participants’ general willingness to reveal their true selves to their relationship partners. However, within a similar age group samples, the result of the current research shows authenticity as two factor solution in which unacceptability of deception contain 10 items and intimate risk taking which includes 10 items.  This might be explained in two ways. First, the sampling technique used by Downing was internet sampling, which leads a difficulty to be sure who the real participants were. Moreover, fake participants might fill the questionnaire, which leads to wrong analysis and conclusions.

Therefore, the results of the component analysis performed by the present study suggests that other researchers considering using the AIRS instrument also should consider carefully their population of interest when determining which factor structure to base their scores on and the sampling technique. Downing one factor solution for adults seems not working for current population in different culture. Rather Lopez and Rice’s two-factor solution clearly   robust enough to hold in early adult populations, which suggest that authenticity as, defined by AIRS measure may not be unifactorial in other populations as well.

Hypotheses 1 explicitly set out to explore whether the two-factor solution explored by Lopez and Rice worked in the current sample. Although the age of samples taken by these researchers and the current researcher differ, it could be realized that two-factor solution also worked for the current study. Lopez and Rice explored 24-items in two-factor solution for authenticity while the current study identified 20-items two-factor solution.  Therefore, the first hypotheses become supported by the data in the present study.

In connection with the above concept, in the second objective of the study, the researcher tried to investigate the perceived relative importance of the two-factor solution. Mean score were calculated to compute the mean of the total item scores in each factor. As shown in the result section, the mean score of the group in intimate risk taking and unacceptability of deception was 71.94 and 60.68 respectively, which result a mean difference of 11.26.  Barley this indicates that intimate risk taking is more preferable by participants in their authentic relationship with partners over unacceptability of deception. To be more confident about the difference in the importance, paired t-test analysis was made. The analysis shows that there is a statistically significant difference between intimate risk taking and unacceptability of deception in early adult couples’ relationship in which the second hypothesis become supported. Although I found no theoretical ground to explain this, in the current sample participants prefer to disclose themselves to their partners than deceiving.

The Effects of Sex and Types of relationship on the Expression of Authenticity in Couples’ Relationship

The third objective of the current study was to examine the effects of sex on the two factor solutions of authenticity (unacceptability of deception and intimate risk taking). The choice of these independent variables was mainly dictated by the relational importance of this issue (authenticity in relationship scale) and the implications of continued support for the development of couples’ relationship.

Lopez and Rice found significant differences between men and women on both subscales and suggested that women were significantly more authentic than men. Moreover, Deci and Ryan (2000, 2004), and Neff and Suizzo (2006) reported main effects for gender such that women reported being significantly more authentic in their relationship than men. However, Downing in her 34-item one-factor solution in authenticity, differences between the sexes disappeared. The current study in 20-items two-factor solution show there is no statistically significant difference between sexes in both subscales. The possible reason could be the culture that discourages women’s assertiveness and disclosure of their true feelings in the current study.

Lopez and Rice investigated the effect of sex on authenticity at relatively early ages than Downing and the current study. Probably therefore, authenticity differences between men and women disappear as individuals grow and mature on social issues, norms and social expectations. Consequently, the concept of intimate relationship and its bonding increases. Although this seems the general trend, still there exists a tendency that women are better in authenticity than males even in the current study. The mean score of females are greater than males in both unacceptability of deception (57.4 and 65.1) and intimate risk taking (69.6 and 75.1). Therefore, the second hypothesis was not supported by the data.

The fourth objective of the study was to investigate the effects of types of relationship on authenticity (unacceptability of deception and intimate risk taking). There are four types of relationship identified in the current study. These are married relationship, cohabited, intimates neither married nor cohabited and single.

Regarding differences in relationship types, the consistent differences among partnered and un-partnered participants Swann, De La Ronde, and Hixon’s (1994) suggested that what people want, and are willing to give to their partners may change over time and as relationships deepen. Specifically, they postulated that as one matures and self-concepts become stable, self-verifying evaluations by others tend to be viewed as a testament to one’s own authenticity. However, nonverifying evaluations are associated with feeling of discomfort, regardless of whether those evaluations contain positive or negative content. Moreover, Downing (2008) reported that relationship type and depth of commitment level seems to influence whether people would, rather “be known” by or simply “adored” by, their partners. Downing study supports the assertion and suggests that becoming involved in long-term relationships may increase people’s desire to be seen accurately and to portray themselves in a more truthful, self-revealing way.

However, in the current study different results were found in the relationship between authenticity and types of relationship in each factor.  On one hand, the first factor (unacceptability of deception) shows no statistically significant difference among groups. The difference existed among the four group in unacceptability of deception was not a statistically significant difference. On the other hand, the present researcher found there is statistically significant difference among groups in authenticity (intimate risk taking). To examine further the difference among specific groups post hoc analysis was made. It revealed that the difference is found between couples and singles. Although there was a mean difference among married, cohabited and intimates neither married nr cohabited, it was not statistically significant. Statistically significant difference was observed between couples (married, not married but live together and not married and live together) and singles. Moreover, the mean score of the groups show the non-patterned changes relative to types of relationship.  This might be attributed to the closing of the value of marriage due to modernization, globalization and scarcity of resources for such luxuries activity (marriage).

Therefore, the fifth hypothesis was not supported by the data while the sixth hypothesis became supported by the data in the present research.

    Limitations of the study

An important limitation of the current study could be the size of the sample used in the study. The samples were not as such big enough which give full confidence for the researcher in the calculation of principal component analysis. Although it is possible to perform component analysis for samples (n>50), most of the time researchers are advised to take sample size more than 100 or each item better to have at least five cases to perform factor analysis.

Moreover, considering the cultural roots of authenticity and its implication is important, since western ideal not held by more collective cultures that value interdependent and less self-centered constructs. Therefore, exploring and theorizing about authenticity through a sociocultural lens may help distill its more essential elements and help researchers develop new definitions that delineate differences between awareness of one’s “truth” as it occurs through and apart from connections with others.

Conclusion

 Based on the findings of this study, the following three general conclusions are drawn;

  1.  The study suggests that two factor solution best explains authenticity in relationship scale.

a. Unacceptability of deception: the willingness to engage in, and accept deceptive and inaccurate self and partner’s representation.

b. Intimate risk taking: the preference of somebody on the disposition of uninhibited self-disclosure and risk taking with one’s partner.

2. Sex has no effect on the expression of authenticity in couples’ relationship. Both males and females could be authentic or inauthentic in their relationship with partners, irrespective of their sex differences

3. The impact of types of relationship on authenticity varies with each factor. The first factor (unacceptability of deception) did not show any effect on the expression of authenticity. However, the second factor (intimate risk taking) shows there is statistically significant difference in the expression of authenticity between couples and singles.

Implications for research and Practice

Indeed, for researchers to understand more in depth what facilitates and inhibits authenticity in couples’ relationships, they first must generate a more adequate sample to run statistical analysis with the defined criteria. Moreover, inclusive operational definition that accounts for the communication of truths in multiple ways and openly acknowledges the cultural limitations of the definitions that are developed.

As to the researcher’s opinion, qualitative research is advisable to understand the full scope of how people in Ethiopian culture define authentic expression in their relationships and how silence, actions, deeds, and purposeful decisions not to share information verbally might be used to communicate important authentic truths about self and relationship.

Therefore, the current study suggests that therapists should work with clients to understand how conformity to sex-role rules and gendered expectations may restrict both awareness and expression of authentic self. Moreover, as relationship level seemed to be an important factor in participants’ authentic self-expression, therapists may wish to explore the different needs and problems of people in various stages of couple relationships. They might consider working with clients to understand how the fear of relationship loss influences one’s own awareness of authentic self.

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