Congruency: Does Your Partner's Outside Match Their Inside?
By Michele Zehr
If you’re about to get married or you believe you have found “the one,” then read to the end, because it just might save you a lot of heartbreak. If 2017 has taught me anything about relationships, it has taught me to constantly ask this question about the person I’m dating: “Does their outside match their inside?” Another way of stating this is: “Do their actions align with their words?” The psychological term for this is congruency, and the word thrown around in spiritual circles is authenticity. I’m here to tell you, if you can’t answer “yes” to that question the vast majority of the time, then you’re looking at inevitable disappointment.
Congruency or authenticity means that the person “shows up” consistently, acts in alignment with their stated values and beliefs, and their outward behaviors match the inner truth of who they say they are as a person. It means you’re seeing the “real” them. It is the birthplace of integrity and trustworthiness, and if those don’t exist in a relationship then you don’t have a healthy relationship. What you have instead is a relationship with a person who is wearing a mask and living a false story about who they think they should be instead of who they really are, and as we all know, actions speak louder than words. You’ll find yourself confused and asking, “Why did she just do that? I thought she said I could trust her.”
You know that jagged feeling you get when your partner acts like it is no big deal when they’ve told you they will clean the house, but when you get home you discover they sat around playing video games all day? Do not ignore that feeling just because it’s easier to “ignore the little things.” It is your intuitive wisdom screaming at you to take pause; something is off, and it’s oftentimes “the little things.”
The problem is that we live in a culture that teaches us to be anything but congruent. We are taught to conform, people please, and act in ways that gain the approval of others even if it means betraying our truest selves. This creates an environment where many people wear masks while living conflicted lives, where vulnerability is a dirty word, and fear—particularly of what others will think—is the primary motivator behind one’s actions. It’s a painful way to live, and so many people are acting in ways they think others want them to instead of just being themselves, which takes a lot less effort.
As a woman who lives in congruency, I have discovered that practicing vulnerability with people who can honor it is a beautiful experience. I don’t fear what others think of me and there’s a stillness and peace I feel each time I act in alignment, even if I know others might disapprove. In fact, I can’t not live in congruency at this point, and the moment I do, my body gives me an uncomfortable warning signal that says, “Hey! You’re not living with integrity!”
If you identify as anything but heterosexual, then you have grappled with this issue of congruency versus cultural norms. You know that it takes tremendous courage to be who you really are, even if it means others don’t approve. It means you have walked the path of vulnerability and facing your fears of being rejected. Congratulations, you are a warrior as you did what so many people never find the courage to do—Honor Thyself.
What if you can say your partner is congruent some of the time? How do you know if it’s healthy enough? We humans are made of shadow and light, and sometimes we are going to be “in shadow” where our best selves are smothered by our wounded selves, which causes us to act out in hurtful ways. Believe it or not this is normal, and I 100% guarantee that both you and your partner will hurt one another while in shadow, so just count on it (never tolerate abuse though). What you need to ask yourself is do you see an established pattern of incongruency and how does your partner respond when you share you’ve been hurt by their incongruent actions?
If they have told you they have integrity and they will “own their stuff,” then you can fully expect that they will take responsibility by apologizing, take ownership of their hurtful actions, and do their best not to repeat those behaviors again. You shouldn’t have to ask them to do this either. If they are living in congruency, they will want to do this.
If, however, they act in a hurtful manner and they consistently try to blame you—which is called projection—or they deny, avoid, deflect, disappear, or try to justify their hurtful actions, then these are red flags. They are not living from an authentic place within themselves. They may or may not be aware of this, as many people have been so deeply conditioned by society that the mask feels real while real feels terrifying. It doesn’t make them bad people; they are simply unaware and disconnected from their Truth. It’s not your job to change or fix them, as that creates an unhealthy co-dependent dynamic. They must take responsibility when they are ready, and the brutal truth is that they may never be ready.
As hard as it is to hear this, at some point, you have to ask yourself if you want to partner with someone who doesn’t show up authentically, because how can you trust someone whose words and actions don’t match? You can’t—period. It’s like living with the boy who cried wolf and you will feel betrayed over and over again. The best any of us can do is focus on living our own lives in congruency and trusting that life will bring a congruent partner into our lives when it’s time. In the meantime, you’ll continue living with integrity, and that’s no small thing in today’s world.