Do you have a sustainable marriage?

I read this fascinating article by Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times entitled

The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage and find it interesting that it came on the heels of my other post of today, about Anais Nin.

For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting.

Caryl Rusbult, a researcher at Vrije University in Amsterdam who died last January, called it the “Michelangelo effect,” referring to the manner in which close partners “sculpt” each other in ways that help each of them attain valued goals.

Wow…is that even possible? I have yet to meet a modern couple where this happens. I personally thought it was too much to ask for.

Dr. Aron and Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, have studied how individuals use a relationship to accumulate knowledge and experiences, a process called “self-expansion.” Research shows that the more self-expansion people experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship.

And the converse being, the less self-expansion people experience from their partner, the less committed and satisfied they are in the relationship? That doesn’t bode well.

While the notion of self-expansion may sound inherently self-serving, it can lead to stronger, more sustainable relationships, Dr. Lewandowski says.

Well that helps to assuage some of my guilty feelings for wanting and needing to grow (i.e. self-expand).

“If you’re seeking self-growth and obtain it from your partner, then that puts your partner in a pretty important position,” he explains. “And being able to help your partner’s self-expansion would be pretty pleasing to yourself.”

Well, it sounds like there is something in it for both individuals in the relationship.

“People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr. Lewandowski says.

I used to think so…but I’m not entirely sure that’s true in all cases.

It makes me wonder…do you have a sustainable marriage?

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
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2 Responses to Do you have a sustainable marriage?

  1. Rick says:

    I read that article, too. I can see her points, rationally, and yet, on a feeling level, I completely disagree. 🙂

    Yes, you should get something greater than what you already have, out of the relationship. I just don’t think that’s possible until you submit to it. The joys are the results of sacrifice to a greater good, not the goal itself. This me-first approach kind of skips all that — or that’s how it feels, anyway.

    But I may be reading my own stuff into this.

  2. This is how it is in my home…

    My husband and I like and need challenge, in different ways. He, as an engineer, likes to do sudoku, mathematical puzzles, or the challenges on Mental Floss, and blows off steam by playing video games.

    While I accept that he does those things, I realize they are not precipitating growth, insight into himself or his daughters or human nature itself. But they sure are a fun stress-reliever for him. To me…all those things are challenging and serve to maintain his mental acuity and flexibility, but really do little to help him understand himself or grow as a father, a husband or a human being.

    He’ll be the first to admit he doesn’t look inwardly too deeply (perhaps for fear of seeing something about himself he does not like). Consequently, while things aren’t being examined (through the lens of philosophy, psychology, OR religion), growth isn’t occurring. But…that being said, he does have a growing desire to amend that. He’s reading some of the books I’ve recommended to him. And, he’s interested in getting more involved in church activities…so both will help his self-expansion. He won’t be in the same rut he’d been in.

    As for me, I’m reading everything I can about human development, philosophy, psychology, and religion/spirituality. I want to know 1) where my problem areas/blind spots are and 2) what my values really are and if I am living my values and 3) what to do if I’m not. I don’t expect God to change me/my heart unless I’m willing to do a little introspection as to where I’m falling short.

    This is a LOT more challenging than it seems…because while I can be aware of my problem areas and have some fundamental understanding of how to respond to conflict, I still am in relationship with my husband, who isn’t as knowledgeable of his problem areas and blind spots.

    Jung believed that what is unexamined in our unconscious would continue to plague us. We continue to fall into the same behavior patterns because of the strong pull of the psyche in response to old scripts of childhood. In some ways, we are ‘doomed’ to repeat any of our dysfunctional behaviors without constant, daily diligent awareness and effort.

    I’m reading a new book…Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding our Darker Selves, by James Hollis, M.D. There’s a section about relationships called Hidden Agendas.

    We have a tendency to project onto others what we do not know about ourselves or what we do not want to know about ourselves or our reluctance to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves.

    When others won’t take responsibility for our own ‘stuff’, the relationship devolves into a power struggle or the blame game.

    Then the relationship is left with choices 1) dissolution 2) blaming 3) sustained anger and depression or 4) growing up.

    Trust me…so many relationships I personally know of are in the 1, 2 or 3. category (and at times, even my own relationship has been in those categories).

    In light of this…it is immensely important that BOTH partners encourage emotional growth in the other. I know from experience, when only one person is doing the growing, it is a nearly impossible situation to bear.

    Now, what type of activities would generate self-expansion and emotional growth? It could be anything from acquiring additional education (I’m not even talking just academic classes, but even something like art or photography or writing classes or cooking classes to learn something new), to learning more about one’s faith, to expanding one’s perception of the world through reading good works of literature/psychology/philosophy. Any and all of these things would serve to help one’s growth and ultimately, bring new insights to the relationship.

    I don’t think what they mean by self-expansion was simply “here take a class on decorating and it will make you a better person”, but why couldn’t it? It might make a person thrilled to be alive…and that enthusiasm for decorating enhances one’s self-esteem so she (or he) comes home happy and uses that knowledge and enthusiasm to improve the aesthetics of one’s home while enabling the person to express themselves through their decorating choices…well, then perhaps having learned something useful and beautiful, perhaps it COULD lead to better relating with one’s partner. (Yes, I agree, this is a very materialistic example and perhaps it would cause other problems…say perhaps one went out and spent a fortune on new furnishings when they can’t afford it…but in some cases…perhaps not). My point being that the potential for positive benefit is there in ANY new learning experience, even the most mundane.

    The problem I run into sometimes is the lack of enthusiasm from my spouse for some of the things I’m learning. I’ll bring it to my husband and the lack of response – not negative response, mind you, just a “yeah, yeah, that’s interesting” comment – devalues a little (in my perception) what I think could be useful in our relationship to each other and our daughters. And with that lack-luster response, I think…what’s the point in ANYTHING I learn or write about…when my own husband doesn’t cheer me on. Except, I have learned that while I would like him to give me positive enthusiastic responses, I can’t expect him to, nor can I be upset when he can not. I don’t do what I do to impress him or anyone else (though perhaps in the past, I HAD done things to impress people). I do what I do because it will eventually make me a better person (at least that’s the intentions I have). Still, I would be thrilled if my husband would be my biggest fan and I his, you know? It would be cool.

    Emotional growth is the ultimate importance of anything that we do and it’s the basis for religions – to become more like God or like Jesus or Buddha (etc.) in goodness and empathy. Jung felt that there was a journey of transformation that is at the heart of all religions. “It is a journey to meet the self and at the same time to meet the Divine.”

    Still, I think it’s possible to come to emotional development towards empathy and compassion and service to Other outside of religious doctrine. Whether one acquires emotional growth through religious/spiritual practices or philosophical education (formal or independent study) one will create higher levels of empathy – theoretically anyway.

    I’m not about to argue one path is better than the other, for some it will be one, for others, it will be a combination of things.

    So, on one level, one might think that encouraging each other’s growth might encourage one to grow AWAY from the other (and it possibly can), but I think that they are talking about cultivating a lifelong love of learning and development. Surface level it does make one more interesting, but deeper than that, being exposed to more inevitably raises one’s enthusiasm for life…and each other.

Would you like to share your thoughts? I'd love to hear them.

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