When you are in love and at the brink of making that BIG commitment – you get those butterflies in your tummy and along with it comes a streak of anxiety. And you close your eyes, cross your fingers to make a wish that this lasts forever. “Lasts Forever??? BAH HUMBUG that’s such a cliche ” – your logic might immediately warn you but you would rather cross your heart and believe it’s forever.
Logic would still do it’s part by warning you – love ain’t designed to stay that long (moreover with the life expectancy increased there is a major design flaw to this whole “forever” concept :)). Most of the time people have stretched it for a lifetime for the sake of social pressures, kids, religious beliefs or financial stability. This isn’t intentional but it’s a possibility that cannot be simply denied. If we strip societal pressure, kid’s security, financial stability, religious beliefs and any such reasons out of the equation – is there “something” left in a long term relationship that makes you come back to the same person day after day? That “something” needs to be nurtured in our relationship. According to psychologist Arthur Aron that “something” is the human need for “Self Expansion”. It’s not the only aspect that sustains a long term relationship but it’s an important aspect that we need to be consciously aware of.
Long Term Relationship and the Self Expansion Model
Psychologist Arthur Aron specializes in the study of romantic love and directs the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Back in 1986 Aron and his wife Elaine (also a psychologist) developed a conceptual framework that attempted to describe how people think, feel, and act in close relationships. It’s called the ‘self-expansion’ model of human relationships and it is based on the idea that we are constantly seeking new ways in which to expand ourselves, and to “increase our store of ideas, experiences, skills, interests and resources in order to accomplish an ever-evolving set of goals.
When we fall in love, our new partner’s perspectives and identities automatically become ours too, and this results in a rapid expansion of self which results in a high levels of positive feelings. Every shared conversation becomes an opportunity for personal growth and in time, couples eventually adopt the traits of the other to the extent that they find it difficult to distinguish the differences between them. This does not mean that these couples have lost themselves in the relationships; instead, they grew and expand their perspectives with that of the others. Activities, traits and behaviors that had not been part of their identity before the relationship were now an essential part of how they experienced life.
The self-expansion model also offers a credible explanation for the typical decline in satisfaction in long term relationships. When two people begin a relationship, there is an initial, exhilarating period in which they ‘expand’ at a very rapid rate. When that expansion slows down, for some couples having children and the experience of nurturing little ones sometimes serves as a way of continuing the expansion process. However, a shared nurturing and admiration for offspring isn’t always enough to sustain the parent’s relationship with each other as the children end up moving out as part of their own self expansion needs. Aron’s research demonstrates that to sustain satisfaction in the long-term, couples need to invest in each other’s self expansion.
Aron believes that it is not just enough for couples to be free of problems and conflicts to sustain a relationship. His research has proven that the more self-expansion people experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship. It’s also important that in a relationship, a unidirectional self expansion – where one person’s self expansion at the expense of the other is avoided.
Aron’s research demonstrates that to sustain satisfaction in the long-term, couples need to invest in each other’s self expansion.
Many times true love and the resulting self expansion sustains even after one of two have left. Remember the Disney movie UP where Carl leaves for his adventure long after Ellie had gone.
Honestly this isn’t any secret but quite often an over looked and neglected aspect in a relationship – when the mundane routine takes over everything else. In a relationship when one adds to the other’s experiences, perspectives, strengths, capabilities and compensates for the other’s weakness resulting in making a better person of each other – it sustains happily overcoming the challenges ( sometimes long after one of them has gone).