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Though most of us would like to think of ourselves as fully independent beings, we are, in reality, very much affected by the individuals we spend our time with. As adults, perhaps no one shapes our lives as much as our romantic partners. As we enter into long-term relationships, many of us gradually notice changes in our attitudes and behaviors, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse.
In healthy, flourishing romantic partnerships, individuals often mold one another into better versions of themselves. Researchers have dubbed this process the “Michelangelo Phenomenon,” noting how it is similar to the way in which Michelangelo famously released the ideal human form from blocks of marble via the sculpting process.
How can partners “use” one another to improve their lives for the better? Consider these real-life examples and think about the ways in which you and your partner can help bring out one another’s “ideal forms!”
Learn to Offer & Accept Help
It might sound cold to think of you “using” your partner to improve your life. In practice, however, it has been proven that partners feel more satisfied in relationships where they realize they are instrumental in helping one another. Most of us feel valuable when we are able to offer advice, support, or concrete assistance to those we love. By supporting our partners in these ways, and learning to accept their help, we can improve the quality of our romantic relationships.
Marie and Paul were both having difficulties in their relationship. Paul was leading a workaholic lifestyle and was unable to relax, spending all of her hours working on her computer. Marie, on the other hand, was feeling uninspired by his own job and overwhelmed by the household work that he was left to manage. Ultimately, with therapy, the couple discovered that their dysfunctional relationship was caused by feelings of needing to provide for each other, along with fears of abandonment. The two committed to redesigning their lives; Paul helped Marie set up her own business, which now aligned with her passions. Paul decided to cut back on his working hours, hiring additional staff to allow himself to spend more time with his wife and his family. Now, the couple enjoys sit-down meals together and daily walks around their neighborhood. Both of their businesses are succeeding, and they’ve established a greater work-life balance. Most crucially, however, both Marie and Paul have learned to accept one another’s help. Paul's business expertise helped Marie transform her professional life; Marie's ability to focus on the more important things in life helped Paul create a happier, more balanced existence for himself. By accepting one another’s help and being flexible and willing to change, Marie and Paul managed to change one another, and their shared existence, for the better.
Discover Hidden Aspects of Yourself
Sometimes, parts of ourselves remain hidden from us for most of our lives. Certain parts of us may remain trapped in stone; sometimes it simply takes the right artist to “carve out” these undiscovered facets of our personalities.
Amadeus was a no-nonsense, frugal man for most of his young adult life. When he met Anna, however, everything changed. Anna saw a side of Amadeus that even Amadeus himrself hadn’t seen before. Before he knew it, Amadeus found himself becoming more adventurous and more willing to spend money on small luxuries.
Research has proven that behavioral confirmation affects most of our relationships. If someone believes something about us, we’re more likely to behave in ways that reflect their beliefs. If a woman believes that her boyfriend is great at telling jokes, she may encourage him to retell his funny stories in front of their family and friends. Over time, the boyfriend may become more confident in his comedic skills, ultimately gaining a reputation for being a funny guy. The reverse, however, can also occur. If the same woman rolls her eyes at her boyfriend’s jokes and tries to stifle his speech when they’re out with friends and colleagues, the same man might repress his urge to crack jokes, ultimately becoming quieter and more withdrawn.
In an ideal relationship, many of us will have the feeling that we’re better versions of ourselves as a result of our partners. This can, in fact, be the truth! When our partners encourage our positive behaviors and highlight our natural talents, we can grow to become happier, more confident individuals.
Find Balance and Learn Self-Compassion
Sometimes, finding a new partner helps us discover a new perspective on ourselves and the way we live. Philipp, for instance, always had a full social calendar. Every weekend, Philipp would be found golfing, partying, enjoying barbeques with his friends, and attending concerts and sporting matches. After meeting Steffi, Philipp began bringing her along to all of his weekend events. After a few weeks, however, Steffi confessed that she wasn’t enjoying the constant activity. The two discussed things and established common ground; Steffi agreed to attend the events that most interested her, as well as those that were most important to Philipp. Philipp also agreed to spend more down time at home with Steffi.
Ultimately, Philipp discovered that this change was for the better. Instead of feeling anxious about filling up his social calendar, Philipp was able to discover the joys of spending relaxing weekends at home. Philipp, in fact, has found that he’s become more productive during the work week and has been able to invest more time in his hobbies as a result of establishing a more balanced weekend routine. His relationship with Steffi has flourished, too.
Partners can often help one another find balance in such ways. Daniela, for instance, benefitted from becoming more social. Philipp was able to establish greater balance in his life by focusing on his own life and personal projects. In close relationships, our partners are often able to help us change our perspectives on ourselves and our lives. Daniela, for instance, always berated herself for missing a day of working out at the gym. Her partner, Felix, however, has repeatedly reminded her that she deserves some down-time, often encouraging her to take a day off when she’s feeling exhausted. Over time, Daniela has learned to stop berating herself for being “lazy,” and instead has learned, as a result of Felix’s encouragement, to see her successes rather than her failures. Spending 20 minutes doing yoga at home instead of sweating for an hour at the gym is still a major accomplishment, and one worth celebrating! With a supportive partner, we can learn to establish better balance in our lives, learning to respect ourselves and acknowledge our own successes along the way.
Distribute the “Dirty Work” and Find Your Own Domain
In long-term, committed relationships, it’s easy to become resentful. Though it can be tricky to figure out, relationships flourish when each partner finds roles that allow them to feel as though they’re contributing in meaningful ways. If partners both dread performing certain tasks, they should discuss the issue to find ways in which they can more fairly distribute things between them.Karl and Elizabeth, for instance, both hate household chores. After much bickering, the two ultimately decided to distribute the tasks equally between them, eliminating their need to make snippy remarks about housework. The two then worked out the ways in which they derived value from other household jobs; Karl felt pride in tending to the exterior of the home and working on interior renovation projects; Elizabeth, on the other hand, genuinely enjoyed cooking for the family. By refocusing on the domains in which they both felt valuable, both Karl and Elizabeth were better able to improve their home and their lives. Today, both partners make sure to take the time to step back and verbally praise the efforts that the other has made.
It is crucially important to step back and really see the ways in which our partners support us and contribute to the betterment of our lives. We often take for granted the chores that our partners perform, the emotional support they offer, or the small ways in which they show their love, be it through thoughtful texts, verbal encouragement, or the breakfast they prepare for us each morning. Consider writing down the things you’re grateful for in your relationship. Really think about all of the things your partner does for you. By acknowledging one another’s efforts and strengths, you can continue to bring out the best in one another.
Team Up, Support, and Inspire Each Other
It’s no surprise that people are more likely to achieve their goals when they’re supported by those around them. In relationships, however, it is important not to fall into the trap of forcing our goals upon our partners. Signing up for a gym membership and pestering your partner to come with you is unlikely to be a successful long-term tactic; instead, partners should find more balanced ways to support one another’s goals. Instead of forcing your girlfriend to get into running, for instance, see if you can free up one evening a week for her to engage in a sport or activity of her choosing.
Sometimes partners simply inspire one another. When Sandra became overwhelmed with work stress, she became resentful of her partner, Arnold, who was continuing to go out with friends, and travel to other countries. Ultimately, though, Sandra realized that nothing was stopping her from living a life more like Arnold's. Sandra cut back on her work schedule, reorganized her life, reconnected with her close friends, and scheduled a much-needed vacation. Arnold never forced these changes on Sandra; rather, Sandra was able to use Arnold’s lifestyle as a blueprint for mapping out a more balanced life for herself.
Today, Sandra says that she’s happier with who she is. Rather than being defined by her job or by her personal life, she’s found a middle ground, establishing an identity that feels right to her.
Had we stood alongside Michelangelo himself, none of us could have foreseen the masterpieces that would ultimately be sculpted by this legendary artist. In the same way, it is nearly impossible to predict the wonderful ways in which a healthy and loving relationship might shape us for the better.When you have a moment, take some time to reflect on your past relationships. Were there ways in which your partner changed you for the better? Perhaps these former relationships also highlighted aspects of yourself that you’d rather leave behind. If you’re in a good relationship now, take some time to think about the positive ways in which your partner has changed you and transformed your life. Whether you’re in a relationship or single, remember that parts of you are still uncarved marble; with the right artistry, you can discover new aspects of your ideal self.
Photo: © Katya Havok/ fotolia.com