I originally published this post on January 3, 2011. I have been thinking about what makes a healthy marriage lately, partly because of the couples therapy husband and I are going to and partly because periodically, I like to see if anything comes of these things I write about.
I came across this post today and I decided to reprint it and a comment I left for someone after that.
By the way, I often write to talk to see myself think and to hopefully help me figure things out. I know some of my posts might be slightly informative, but sometimes I think I’m kind of Asperger-ish, because (in my real life) I have always seemed to have problems relating to others. I used to not talk much as a child, and lately I’m remembering why.
I read this article by Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times entitled
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 couple where this actually 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 many of the marriages I’ve seen.
Back then, I posed the question Do You Have a Sustainable Marriage?
And I got one reply. I wonder why that was.
And I wrote this response to the only comment I’d gotten at the time. I am re-reading it and feeling like I sound like I was complaining, but I wasn’t trying to. It may have come out that way a little.
Just to make it more confusing, I was going to include today’s thoughts about what I wrote then in brackets [ ].
My husband and I like and need challenge, in different ways. He, as former mechanical engineer, likes to do sudoku, crosswords, solitaire, puzzles, or the challenges on Mental Floss, and blows off steam by playing video games or bejeweled or candy crush.
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.
[Truth be told, I hadn’t accepted that very easily. I had felt very painfully lonely because he didn’t talk to me much. I’m pretty sure I had a lot to do with that]
To me…all those things are challenging and serve to maintain his mental acuity and flexibility, but do they help him understand himself or grow as a father, a husband or a human being?
[This sounds really judgmental to me]
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 says 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. He won’t be in the same rut he’d been in.
[He has grown some, then had a setback or two, then regained it again, I think. Just like I have]
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.
[And sometimes I think that all the reading I do isn’t really doing all that much].
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, and I clash anyway.
[still true today, just not as much because it hurts to much to be in conflict. i’ve been practicing some meditation that helps]
Jung believed, as Freud did, 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 trying. I know what I do and I just can’t tell why I still keep doing some of the same things even though I know it’s bad. Am I ever going to get this just right?].
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.
[And I wish I could find it again…cause I lost it].
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.
[Oh, I’m sure I don’t know a lot of things about myself. I want to know, all right. And I take responsibility for myself. I just get stuck in a morass of my own thoughts at times and I can’t see anything at all. I try to limit my interactions with people out of fear of projection. Can’t project if you don’t interact, right?].
When others won’t take responsibility for our own ‘stuff’, the relationship devolves into a power struggle or the blame game.
[Been there, done that]
Then the relationship is left with choices 1) dissolution 2) blaming 3) sustained anger and depression or 4) growing up.
[1. No. 2. yes 3. depression 4. I don’t know. I still don’t feel very grown up]
In light of this…it seems immensely important that partners encourage emotional growth in each other.
I know all the resources say that it’s possible for only one person to grow, and it should be done anyway.
[I also know that two years later, I really didn’t grow as much as I thought I was capable of. I sometimes think I’m kidding myself. That for as smart as I can be, I’m kind of quite dumb. And I’m afraid I’m self-sabotaging. But why?].
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 wondering when it is I will meet this self and the Divine.]
If you’re still with me, I’d like to ask you.
Do you have a sustainable marriage?