When embarking on any relationship, sometimes it's tempting to put on a facade to protect yourself from feeling vulnerable - it can feel easier than revealing the real you.
If you do wear a mask, it can be tougher and tougher to expose your vulnerabilities and any difficult or confusing emotions as your relationship continues, but being authentic in a relationship is essential not only for you but also for your partner - it allows them the freedom to be who they need to be and can give you both the confidence to grow as individuals and as a couple.
Being authentic can also spell the difference between a happy, stable relationship and one plagued with self-doubt.
"Authenticity means not being afraid to show your partner who you really are, warts and all. It is true that early on in a relationship, when everything is new and exciting, we are often on our best behaviour, hoping not only to attract our new or potential partner, but also to keep them from being scared off by the reality of our 'less than perfect' selves," explains psychosexual therapist and relationship counsellor Krystal Woodbridge, the director of Woodbridge Therapy Ltd and a member of the COSRT Trustee Board.
After the honeymoon period in a relationship, we start to wonder whether out partner can live up to the high standards that we've come to expect from them (and whether we can live up to standards we've set for ourselves?)
"If we try to maintain a facade, it is inevitable that at some point we will begin to crack under the pressure of expectation that we place on ourselves, or the pressure that we perceive our partners place on us. In fact, the word perception is key to understanding what stops us from being truly authentic in our relationships," says Woodbridge.
Failing to be authentic can lead to insecurities and unnecessary conflicts when we start to worry that our partner expects an idealised version of ourselves, according to Woodbridge.
These assumptions can be dangerous since they imply that your partner sees the world exactly the same way you do - which isn't the case since each individual brings their own experiences and values to a relationship, and we can't know how anyone else feels or what they think.
"Once we truly realise this, we can accept that our assumptions of how our partner will receive our deepest needs, desires, imperfections and foibles are more a reflection of our own view of ourselves," says Woodbridge.
"This highlights the importance of developing a healthy relationship with ourselves well as with our partner. It means that just because we might view the fact that we have issues with trust, or a need for reassurance as 'needy', it doesn't mean that our partner will view it as a negative thing. It also means that as we cannot assume that our partner knows how we feel or what we want, we have to tell them!"
Once you are honest with yourself about your emotions and desires, your relationship - with yourself and your partner - can move forward. Plucking up the courage to show who you really are is more fulfilling and will help bring you to a deeper level of understanding in your relationship. And there's no time like the present to whip off that mask.
"People are afraid to be authentic because they don't want to make waves or be disapproved of," explains Beverley Stone, a chartered business psychologist and Harley Street relationship therapist. "Most people are just trying to muddle along and an 'anything for peace' approach is fairly effective in the short term.
"It's only in the long term that your eyes flash open and you're grinding your teeth at 3AM because you can't stand your relationship and that is because you're not being open and honest about it."
According to Stone, even if it feels that authenticity comes with risks (fear of failure, uncertainty, ambiguity), not having the courage to be open and honest about what you want in life carries risks as well (worrying you're living a life of regret, while also feeling stressed and anxious).
"You have got to face your partner and agree that this relationship has to work for both of us or we have to agree it's not working and we have to leave. You only have two choices – the stress and anxiety of standing still and keeping your head down or the stress and anxiety of taking the risk, trying something new and living with the uncertainty of not knowing if it will be better or worse and fulfill your life’s potential," says Stone.
One of the issues with authenticity in relationships that Stone often comes across in her work is that people are going through the motions of life and are not existentially aware. Every choice a person makes - from what they're wearing to how they get to work on any given day - is a choice, but someone who is authentic is aware of those choices and the act of choosing.
Sometimes, you can be unconsciously inauthentic - feeling like you're being true to yourself but simultaneously feeling trapped by your life and your choices.
"It's a predicament they find themselves in because they can choose to be otherwise and have made choices to end up in their situations. You can only be authentic once you become aware you’re not living life true to yourself."
Stone has a few practical techniques she recommends for couples who are embracing authenticity. She suggests that each party write a list of 'Things You Can Expect of Me,' which can include asking for anything from a night off from the children to putting the rubbish out each week to being supportive of a new career track.
Once the lists are written, the couple sits down and negotiates them and once the terms are agreed on, Stone tells couples to stick it on the fridge and look at it once a week to see how they're doing and how they're working towards their goals.
Another tip she gives couples is to consider how they handle conflict - is one person becoming angry while the other one runs away from the issue?
She recommends getting out of a 'fight or flight' dynamic - which never solves the issue - and encourages couples to ask open questions, to be collaborative and to change their tone of voice with one another. The conflict resolution agreement they decide on also gets stuck on the fridge as a reminder in case they return to habitual forms of behaviour.
"There are two ways of viewing life: you can either change the situation so you stay and make it better or leave and find someone more suitable," says Stone. "Or, you can change the way you view the situation so you no longer get worked up about it and decide that you're going to put up with it.
"You can’t stay and hate it – it’s a ridiculous waste of life and makes you ill psychologically and otherwise."