Wedding season is upon us. June is the most popular month to get married, but the entire season is often filled with weekends jam-packed with wedded bliss. As I was in the process of getting a bridesmaid’s dress tailored last week, a friend called me on the phone to run her vows by me. In it, she used one of the phrases that is all too common, but very shortsighted.
“My partner, (insert name), makes me complete.”
I’ve heard this statement a countless number of times, often in wedding vows, but is this really what we want out of a relationship? Sure, I understand that it implies that a person and his/her partner fit together and become better off than when alone, but it also alludes to the idea that people need a partner to feel whole. If we are waiting for another to make us complete, what does this imply about the state we were in when single?
While we want to be able to rely on our partners, it is important to be able to believe in our own inner strength. So, if we don’t need our partner to feel complete, then what is it that we want?
What We Want
A great way to think of the benefits we derive from having satisfying relationships with our partners involves using the self-expansion model. This model states that in order to feel fulfilled, our sense of self continues to expand and grow throughout our lives. One way to expand or grow involves our romantic relationships. Forming unions helps us grow, as we benefit from learning from a new person. If we are already in a relationship (I’m especially talking to those of you about to head down the aisle), we can grow as a result of trying new things with our partners. This may involve engaging in new activities.
Not only do relationships lead to self-expansion, but expansion can in turn benefit our relationships. Self-expansion is often associated with greater relationship satisfaction. Ledbetter (2013) noted that self-expansion predicts how often couples will share problems with one another and display affection.
Researchers Aron, Lewandowski, Mashek, and Aron (2013) note that there are two main components to self-expansion. First is the motivational principle, which is when we increase our ability to accomplish goals when with others. Second involves the inclusion-of-other-in-the-self principle, in which we benefit from the other person’s resources and perspectives.
When we enter a new relationship, there are many opportunities to expand, which may be part of our initial subconscious attraction to the person. We benefit as a result of learning from our new partner, and we grow as a result of sharing in his/her ideas, interests, and resources. This is another reason why the honeymoon phase of a relationship may be so exciting. As we get comfortable in our relationships over time, the ability to expand declines, because there is more overlap between the two people.
Take Away: What You Can Do To Continue To Expand
Many people worry that once their lives become so entwined, while they benefit from the increased closeness, they lack the excitement they once experienced, as well as the opportunities for growth. In order to continue to expand as a result of your relationship, consider the following suggestions:
1. Take a class together and learn something new
2. Pick up a new hobby
3. Join a group to meet new potential friends—for those of you getting married, consider a newlyweds group
4. Travel and share new experiences with one another
For those about to head down the aisle, as you finalize your vows, keep these ideas in mind. Remember, your partner shouldn’t make you whole, rather he/she should help you to grow. Perhaps you may want to consider the following lines for your vows: “My partner, (insert name), helps me grow and I look forward to continuing our growth for as long as we shall live.”
Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, is a psychology professor, relationship researcher and relationship coach and the author of From First Kiss to Forever: A Scientific Approach to Love. Learn more about Marisa at www.marisatcohen.com.