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January 4, 2011

But what’s in it for me?

Filed under: Psychology — posted by Breakup Girl @ 10:15 am

Even superheroes take like three weeks to get through the Sunday paper. So in case you missed it, or are still stuck on Automotive, here’s a nod to an interesting piece in the Times by Tara Parker-Pope. At a time of “sustainable”-chic, what — Parker-Pope asks, makes a relationship (in this case, marriage) last? It’s not just a toolbox containing “communication skills,” say. Actually, those things do help relationships endure, but they don’t — necessarily — make them “meaningful and satisfying.” As it turns out, “the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, it is all about you.

Well, sort of. Let’s put it this way: it’s about finding someone who makes your life interesting — who inspires you to try new things, to shift and change in ways that please you.

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.

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.


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

“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.”


Over time, the personal gains from lasting relationships are often subtle. Having a partner who is funny or creative adds something new to someone who isn’t. A partner who is an active community volunteer creates new social opportunities for a spouse who spends long hours at work.

I mean, even relationships that end, if they had some good to them — and come on, most do — you still get something, leave with something, carry something forward that enriches your life. Hobbies, interests, new perspectives, learning experiences. Like, from that one boyfriend, I got skiing, and art history. From another, bread-baking, and rage. I KID. (Just about the rage.)

What this also says to me: no one — no one! — should be made to feel bad or needy or girly or “desperate” or whatever for wanting to find love. We are social, seeking beings. We don’t want someone just to make us complete. We want someone to help make us, and our worlds, even bigger. And to do the same for that someone.

Bonus: Take Parker-Pope’s quiz to find out how much your relationship, past or present, “expands[/ed] your knowledge and makes[/made] you feel good about yourself.”


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