How Relationships Can Help You Grow

Yesterday must have been relationship day. There were a couple of interesting interviews in the news about how to sustain a good relationship. The New York Times had an article on “The Sustainable Marriage” being more about the “me” than the “we”. People today are seeking partners that make their life more interesting, a shift from the traditional thinking that marriage is about putting the relationship first.  The article talks about self-expansion…whereby the relationship does lift you up and helps you become a better person.

“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. The concept explains why people are delighted when dates treat them to new experiences, like a weekend away. But self-expansion isn’t just about exotic experiences. Individuals experience personal growth through their partners in big and small ways. It happens when they introduce new friends, or casually talk about a new restaurant or a fascinating story in the news. ‘People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,’ Dr. Lewandowski says. ‘If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.'”

So your partner should help YOU grow. Of course this should be mutually reciprocal, rather than mutually dependent. I think you also need to grow on your own  – you can’t rely only on your partner for growth. Many of the 40-somethings I talk to advise that you grow together and you grow separately. And the growth you experience on your own, through your own interests and learning, can come back into the relationship and make it all the more interesting. They also agree that couples need shared interests…those things you love to do together and make time to do.

You can read the article and see how expansive your relationship is here:

Hal Runkel and Dale Atkins, authors of The Scream Free Marriage were on the Today Show yesterday and had a similar perspective. They believe it’s a fallacy that marriage is about the “we”. We need to bring back the “I”.  According to them, boredom and resentment are two of the biggest problems in relationships and much of that is caused  by losing, or suppressing, oneself. When you don’t reveal your whole self to your partner..maybe you don’t want to rock the boat, maybe you think they will reject you…that only ends up in resentment.  People tend to blame their spouse for that, but they recommend taking it upon yourself to “bring back that part of yourself that probably attracted your partner in tne first place” and you didn’t even know it. They also suggest “expansion”.

“Expand yourself through the eyes of your spouse. For example, say, I never would never have done that if I had not known you. Or I never would have learned that if you had not taught me. And because I have done that I have expanded myself. I’ve learned something new and done something different. And now I can take that to the next level or can take that and do something that I love and you will encourage me because as a great supportive partner you want me to be my best and you won’t feel threatened by it because I will include you as much as I can.”

So again a common theme. Don’t lose yourself and hopefully find a partner that will help you grow rather than hold you back. That is a real sign that it will be a frustrating partnership. This 40-something woman relates her perspective on that. She gave a lot  in her relationship and really didn’t get anything back. She didn’t want for her partner to match her in her giving, she just wanted him to apprecaite it and support her. She kept thinking that the more she gave, eventually he would change and give her something in return. But instead, maybe she was just trying to grow with the wrong person. She felt without his support she couldn’t grow at all.

“It’s just the right combination. Just like ingredients when you are cooking. You can’t change it. You just can’t make a cake rise, no matter how much effort you put into it, if you don’t give it any leavening or any baking soda, baking powder. You can love it to death, you can coddle it, but it’s not gonna work because you don’t have the right people or the right ingredients. And  think relationships are the same way.

In my twenties, I thought hopefully he will appreciate it, hopefully he will change. Now, I would be smarter about guys. It’s  kind of like the yeast in bread. Are they raising you up too rather than holding you back or even just plateauing. Because then you won’t evolve. You won’t know yourself any better because nobody was nurturing you. When you’re in a more supportive relationship, you would learn more about yourself”.

A lot of people tell me they want a relationship and partner that will give them a soft place to fall. But maybe instead it’s about having a partner and launch pad to raise you up. You can learn new things from your partner that will make you a better person on your own. And you can learn things on your own that will make your partnership better. Don’t expect to grow without any support. And don’t be afraid to reveal yourself as a pathway to growing with your partner. As one woman told me,  “Only by being vulnerable and showing your true self can you have true trust in a relationship”.

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