Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Understanding and Building a ‘Me’ Marriage

the me marriageDo you really want a ‘Me’ Marriage? Your first inclination may be to say, “I don’t think so.”

Intuitively this makes sense as most partners have been encouraged to focus on the “We” in their marriage.  It’s even likely that at some point you have heard or have said to your partner – “You know, it’s not all about you!”

That being said, it is very interesting that Tara Parker-Pope in a recent Week in Review section of the New York Times tells us that “The Happy Marriage is the ‘Me’ Marriage.”

How Can This Be?

Reporting on the research of psychologists Arthur Aron and Gary Lewandowski, Parker-Pope clarifies that while communication skills, mental health, social support and stress are factors that determine whether a marriage will last or not – they are not sufficient for making it enjoyable or sustaining to the individuals.

According to the research findings, what is needed for a happy marriage is for each partner to provide “added value” to the other in a way that facilitates the other’s self-expansion. The more self-expansion of the “ me” that each partner feels  – the more your partner makes you laugh, introduces you to new experiences, increases your ability to accomplish things, broadens your perspective etc.- the more committed and satisfied you are likely to be in your marriage.

The basic message is that if the ‘Me’ of each partner feels enhanced by the other – the happier they will be as a “We.”

Do You Feel Enhanced By Your Partner?

You may already know if your partner enhances your sense of self or you may want to take the 10 item “The Sustainable-Marriage Quiz” which measures self-expansion with questions like “How much has knowing your partner made you a better person?”

In either case you still have another question to ask – Do You Enhance Your Partner? The “The Sustainable-Marriage Quiz” is taken only from the perspective of you as the recipient. What would your score be from the other perspective? What if you were answering questions like “How much has knowing you made your partner a better person?”

Given that relationships are co-created, it is inevitable that both partners need to provide as well as receive “added value” for the result to be a happier relationship.

Some Ideas for Building a ‘Me’ Marriage

  • Draw upon your confidence to offer something to your partner — be it your idea about the furniture, a different type of vacation, your wish to find a new job or need to get a dog. Assume that what you share is of added value even if all it does is stir discussion.
  • Avoid an “all or none” policy. The fact that your partner is really not interested in your jokes or the football game scores DOES NOT MEAN he/she will not be interested in other ideas, dimensions or chapters you suggest or introduce into your lives.
  • Given the conscious and unconscious bond you share – you play a part in how much your partner enhances you and how much you resist your partner’s “added value.”
  • To feel enhanced you often have to risk stepping out of your comfort zone – that’s what results in expansion.
  • Accepting an invitation to try something new does not equate to a guarantee that a partner will love it or embrace it permanently. Such a rule would preclude authenticity and real choice.
  • Compliance with all your partner’s ideas, suggestions or plans without ever giving your opinion or ideas leaves you dependent and your partner lonely and bored.
  • Obligatory compliance in not enhancing and does not increase anyone’s happiness.
  • Affirming and supporting the natural and inborn qualities you see in your partner promotes their ideal self. This is the Michelangelo Phenomenon.
  • The Pygmalion Phenomenon occurs when you affirm, promote and push your partner to develop qualities that fit with your ideal selfnot theirs. It neither enhances your partner nor brings marriage happiness.
  • Recognizing the way in which you compensate for each other’s rough spots is personally and mutually validating.
  • Whereas early in relationships there is often motivation to know and connect with the partner in a way that promotes self-expansion, years of problems, static patterns and presumptions of knowing by partners in long-standing relationships can create resistance to self- enhancement.
    • She stopped vacationing with him because she figured he wanted to fish.
    • He stopped telling her most things because she seemed bored.
    • Neither talked of dreams of what they still wanted to do because they still hadn’t agreed on when they would retire.
  • The greatest gift partners can give each other is to be open to learning something new about each other.
  • To presume nothing about what your partner would do or how they might respond after 5, 10, even 30 years of being together might seem very risky – even insane, but it will never be boring.

It just might be the start of a ‘Me’ marriage.

Photo by Kumon, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.