A recent story in the New York Times under the header “Sustainable Love” prompted me to think about how we develop and change as individuals, and gave me insights into how to further shape the mosaic that is now moi.
The main point of the story is that the happiest marriages contain individuals who grow and shape each other. One researcher, Caryl Rusbult, 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. Others who have studied relationships called the process “self-expansion.” The story points out that “the more self-expansion people experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship.”
These theories apply to marriage, certainly, but I couldn’t help but consider how the ideas apply with respect to other aspects of our lives and relationships. People undoubtedly shape us, but experiences do, too. Some of us have more “Michelangelos” working us over than others. Some of us don’t even know there are Michelangelos at work. For instance, it’s easy to see how friends and relatives who are parents are being radically overhauled as a result of the experiences they have with their children. They’re being sculpted whether they want to be or not.
Those without partners or children sharing space or living under one roof have to work a little harder to assemble their team of sculptors, those who help to discover and develop what one researcher described as the individuals who introduce “activities, traits and behaviors that had not been part of their identity before the relationship” but were now “an essential part of how they
experienced life.” They went on to explain:
“Partners involved in novel and interesting experiences together were … less likely to report boredom. “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.”
The good news, my dear Internets, is that we have more than a little say in the “artists” we surround ourselves with, and those who “add to who we are as a person.”
As it’s still early in the year, I challenge you (and me) in 2011 to be creative Michelangelos — both in how we shape those around us, and in who we engage to sculpt the masterpieces that are us.