What makes a marriage meaningful?

The New York Times recently ran an interesting article headlined The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage.

Tara Parker-Pope wrote about not what makes a marriage last but what makes it meaningful, including the ways your partner makes your life better:

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.

To measure this, Dr. Lewandowski developed a series of questions for couples: How much has being with your partner resulted in your learning new things? How much has knowing your partner made you a better person? (Take the full quiz measuring self-expansion.)

“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.”

Read the full article here.

This notion of self expansion being correlated to relationship satisfaction makes so much sense to me. A good mate should help you be a better version of yourself,  including experiencing things you might not otherwise.

Maintaining a healthy marriage takes work, and we want some payoff for that effort. Having a partner who makes your life richer than it would be if you’re alone seems like the return on the investment of your effort.

What do you think makes marriage meaningful?

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Categories: home and family, lifestyle

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5 replies

  1. As a single woman in my 30s, I get plenty of marriage advice. 🙂 One of my favorites came from a friend who is in her 60s and happily married to her third husband. She said that after her second divorce, a friend asked her, “You have such marvelous friendships, why do you pick such terrible husbands?” My friend realized she’d convinced herself and her first and second husbands that she was who they wanted her to be, and when she started being herself, they were terrified (her words, not mine). With her third husband, she said right out of the gate she was as much of herself as she could possibly be and, while they have to work on communication and problem solving, they both love each other for who they are deep down and as their every-day selves. They’ve been married over 30 years.

    A few months ago I went out with a guy who said, “You’re not like most women I meet here. Do you intimidate the men you meet?” I said, “Perhaps I do, but I’m not concerned about those guys, they wouldn’t be able to keep up with me anyway.” Turns out the guy who asked the question can keep up, and we’re having fun getting to know one another. He tells me to keep being more of me, he likes it. I like being me, too.

  2. When kamau and I were 1st dating we always joked that we were a “couple of singles”. We were both okay with being single when we met and our relationship thrived on a lack of co-dependency. Meaning we enjoyed our time together but also individual time away doing the things that mattered to us — like making art and being with family.

    Now that we’re married being a “couple of singles” no longer seems like the wise way to be but I’m thankful for this time that made us stronger. As a newlywed – I can’t say that I truly know what makes a marriage meaningful yet. But, as we inch closer to the one-year mark I’m finding that it’s the little things like surprise French Press coffee in the mornings, love note texting, and unexpected giggles that make our days special☺.

  3. @Kateshrewsday: I think they are saying, it’s not that the partner per se is “responsible” for the other partner’s growth but that they feel more “connected” to the spouse when they experience encouragement and support on their journey of growth.

    To me life is all about one big journey of growth and even though I’ve never been married I imagine that marriage would ask that of us as well. We are always growing in one way or another. And there are a bunch of old skins that we are always in need of shedding. I’m a big believer in self development and when I do engage in some usually something “shows up.” Something that needs a tending to. Sometimes it’s an emotional pruning or an outright open heart surgery on my soul. Sometimes it’s simply a letting go of something or a reckoning that I must make with my shadow. I sure as hell could not navigate what ever it asks of me without some serious support from my very close friends. They help me digest it all. If I were married then I imagine the support of my mate would be extraordinarily important to me in the midst of that work.

    Joe Campbell said that marriage was to be endured. I don’t think he meant that to mean it was torture, but a wild ride that on occasion will mean it’s difficult to stay with. And that presumably means staying with him or her – in other words -that one over there! I know for sure that I will need my husband to endure me and my growth. And he would have the right to expect it from me as well.

    More from Campbell: “Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn’t that. That is a relationship of pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable , it’s off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you are not married.”

  4. Thanks – great post: really set me thinking. Is it me, or is the idea of seeking self-growth from a partner a little needy? I have a fabulous partner and we’re approaching 20 years of marriage , and have 2 kids. I ask that my partner allows me to grow freely – and doesn’t stunt my self growth; but aren’t we all responsible for our own growth- isn’t that what the concept of locus of control is all about?

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