Truth or False: the longevity of a relationship is not necessary correlated with the happiness of the people in it? A recent NYT article on happy marriages calls this out as being true (and I strongly agree). “The things that make a marriage last have more to do with communication skills, mental health, social support, stress […] but those things don’t necessarily make it meaningful or enjoyable or sustaining to the individual.” Gottman’s famous “love lab” experiments support this through some of his research as well.
According to the NYT piece, in this day and age marriage is viewed less as an economic/social institution (in our lucky part of the world) and more as a partnership from which both people seek to benefit. It may sound selfish to seek self-gratification, but it turns out that acting on this motivation makes for happier marriages.
As a cited example, two professors from Monmouth University have studied a process they call ‘self-expansion,’ meaning how much we use our relationships to accumulate new knowledge and experiences. This can include big and small things, blatant and subtle effects, from introducing a new kind of cuisine to sharing a new hobby, or planning a trip to a previously unseen destination. Good relationships broaden the way we look at ourselves and “research shows that the more self-expansion people experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship.”
Not surprisingly, the way we grow from our partners and incorporate new elements into our individual identities is very predictive of couples’ happiness. Interestingly enough, a researcher from Vrije University calls some of this the “Michelangelo effect,” meaning the way in which we ‘sculpt’ each other in ways that help us become who want to be and reach the goals we have prioritized. I personally find this notion very interesting because – despite being somewhat self-serving – it makes sense that we would want to establish a workable partnership with the person we plan to spend the most time with in our lives. The bottom line is, “if your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.” Sadly, although this might seem common sensical, it’s far from how many relationships work.