When I first started introducing my boyfriend to my friends and family, they pretty much all had the same reaction: "He looks like he could be your fraternal twin." Even to this day, almost every picture I post of us together, gets at least a few "twinning" comments from followers. So, yeah, it's safe to say we look similar. But, as time has gone on, I've noticed something even weirder: Our personalities have become more similar. Is it normal to become more like your significant other as time goes on in your relationship!? Well, according to a recent study in the journal Self and Identity, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
"Each individual has a personal identity and an understanding of who they are,” Courtney Walsh, a researcher behind the study and a human development and family sciences graduate student at The University of Texas, told The Daily Texan. “When individuals enter into relationships and become increasingly committed, they develop an identity as a couple, and we were interested in what that identity might look like."
In order to look into how they form their identity as a couple and how, as a result, that plays into who they are as individuals, Walsh and the other researchers created a longitudinal survey that they gave to couples at various stages of their marriage. First, the couples were asked to respond to the survey after only six months of marriage. They were then asked to regularly respond until they had been together for three years.
What they found was that, over time, the couples started to undergo something called "identity fusion." In other words, they started to develop similar personalities, as a result of their emotional connection.
"Fusion involves the union of one’s personal self with the partner, which is a more profound and emotional form of alignment than merely identifying with a partner,” psychology professor William B. Swann told The Daily Texan.
On one hand, it's extremely romantic to think that it's now been scientifically proven that two people's identities can actually merge to become one. On the other hand, it's concerning as it presents the possibility of losing your sense of self to your partner.
Lisa Neff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences and a co-author of the study, highlighted some of these concerns to The Daily Texan.
“In some cases, people may perceive that their couple identity is imbalanced. They may think their own identity is a bit lost in the couple and their partner dominates (referred to as eclipsed),” she told the publication.
Another concern the study found with fusing personalities is that the couples seemed to be less critical of their partners' more concerning behaviors. For instance, Walsh asked the participants of the study to log their partner's more frustrating behaviors in a daily diary survey. The couples who felt more "merged" wound up letting annoying and sometimes downright rude behavior go.
“We found that (when) people said that they felt more merged with their partner, they were less likely to be tracking their partner’s day-to-day negative behaviors,” Walsh told The Daily Texan.
That being said, on the bright side of identity fusion, the study found that couples who experienced this phenomenon were able to get through fights with more ease.
“We found that partners that felt more fused responded to conflict in a more constructive, pro-relationship way”, Walsh said to The Daily Texan.
But that only happens when the identity fusion is balanced. If there's any sort of imbalance in the way the identities are fused (i.e if one partner is totally in control and the other is not), fights occur more frequently as the weaker partner is constantly trying to look for flaws in the more dominant partner.
“For instance, when people feel eclipsed, they tend to feel less secure in the relationship,” Neff told The Daily Texan. “As a result, they tend to be very hypervigilant for their partner’s negative behaviors — almost like they are always scanning their relationship for any signs of problems.”
The best way to circumvent these issues is through open communication. "Relationship partners are not mind readers, so each person must communicate their needs to each other,” Swann advises readers of The Daily Texan. “The flip-side is that people must be receptive when their partners communicate their needs.”
Did you read that, people? Whether or not your identity is "fused" with that of your partner, communicate openly and honestly, be nice when they do the same and your relationship will be A-OK.