In a previous post, we looked at some recent research on the hidden risks of closeness in romantic relationships. It turns out that the closeness that people feel in romantic relationships may not be so beneficial when it doesn’t match the closeness they would ideally like. People who don’t feel close enough to their romantic partners tend to be more depressed, less satisfied with their relationships, and less committed to their partners, and they, not surprisingly, think about breaking up more often.1 And guess what? The same is true of people who feel too close to their romantic partners. These findings raise questions about what couples can do when the closeness one or both partner's desire is different from the closeness they actually feel.
Entries in self-expansion (19)
In the 23rd installment of Sage’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Dr. Jennifer Tomlinson (Carnegie Mellon University) discusses her recent research with Professor Art Aron (Stony Brook University) on the classic dilemma: how do we balance the benefits of growing emotionally close to a person with the risk of getting hurt that comes when we make ourselves vulnerable?
You know those people on Facebook who tag their romantic partners in every…single…post? Or how about the people whose uploaded photos almost always contain their partners? If you’re anything like me, you may find it somewhat annoying, but these kinds of behaviors convey important information about couples’ relationships.
Previously, we have discussed how romantic partners’ senses of self gradually begin merging together and overlap with one another. In other words, we begin to take on some of our romantic partner’s aspects into our sense of who we are (e.g., you may find that you have picked up interests or hobbies that your partner introduced you to), and we begin to talk more in terms of “us” and “we” than “me” and “him/her”. In a recent study, researchers surveyed 276 individuals (mostly college students) about various aspects of their romantic relationships, including the degree of self-partner overlap and the content of their Facebook profiles.
As she outlines in the article, in a new relationship, our partner constantly surprises us because so much about him or her is a mystery. This uncertainty is exciting and often accompanied by high levels of desire and passion. Social psychologists refer to early stage of a relationship as passionate love – an intense period of longing and desire for a partner that is common in new relationships but tends to fade after about two years. Over time, our partners become more familiar and predictable, and we shift to a more companionate love stage. Although this stage typically involves a deep connection, it is less intense and often feels more stable and comfortable.
It is customary to do something special with your partner on Valentine’s Day to celebrate your relationship. Have you planned what you are going to do? You can go with the standard commercialized gifts like chocolates, lingerie, or overpriced roses. Or, perhaps you plan on simply spending some time with each other. If you go that route, rather than the trite dinner and a movie, you may want to consider doing something together that will actually make you and your relationship better.
Q: My wife and I met three years ago. We have one child together, but we both have children from a previous marriage. Since getting married 2 years ago, my wife has been trying to get me to quit all the activities I have enjoyed my whole life. It started with asking me to cut down baseball in the summer from the weekends to one day a week. I was OK with that. Then it was hunting...she wanted me to give up the only weekend that I hunt all year long for deer opening. Last month she asked me to pick between baseball or bowling. I like bowling because I am in a league with my father, brother and friends. I told her to pick which she wants me to do. She said no. She wanted me to pick. I decided to stay doing baseball once a week, and have gave up all other activities.
And now she wants me to quit all of them. I feel she is working me little by little to get me to do what she wants. The interests my wife and I have are very different from one another. She doesn’t like the things I do (baseball, hunting, bowling), but I don’t mind her doing the things she enjoys. I just feel when she is asking me to give up all the things I enjoy, she is taking away the time I need to unwind.
Am I being selfish by wanting to play baseball one day out of each weekend during the summer, and bowl (during the work week not weekends) in one league during the winter, and either bow or rifle hunt for deer (her choice)?
A: My answer is no, you are not being selfish. Taking part in activities that you have enjoyed your whole life with people you care about (e.g., friends, family) is important for your psychological and physical health.1 Self-expansion theory proposes that people have a basic need to expand their sense of self, and this can be done one of two ways: through novel or exciting activities like sports or intellectual pursuits, or by including another person into your own self-concept, such as seeing your wife as part of you.
A reader recently submitted the following question:
“I had a 9 month long-distance relationship (LDR) with a girl I met on an internship abroad. Toward the end of the LDR, I felt that she changed and became uninterested and less available. I admit that I made a mistake by having my life revolve around her, which little by little killed her attraction. I also jeopardized our relationship by being manipulative. She originally said she didn’t want to break up and assured me that she loved me, but a day later she told me she wanted to break up. I was shocked and devastated.
We stayed friends for 2-3 weeks, but I was still miserable and tried to get her to change her mind by hanging out with her day and night. A few weeks later, I told her I loved her to death, which only turned her off more. I then told her I would stop contacting her, hoping that this would be the way to get her back. She replied, saying she respected my decision and still wanted to be friends.
I haven’t replied yet. I still love her very much and still have hope that staying away from her for a while and then reconnecting will show her that I have changed and she will want to be with me again. I’m afraid that I’m not doing the right thing, though. What steps should I take? How should I approach her again? I don’t want to lose her.”
A reader recently submitted the following question:
Q: Why does a break up feel like the person is rejecting you? Even though you are pretty satisfied with yourself? I guess what I am also asking is, when someone says “It's me, not you,” why does it still hurt?
A: Thank you for submitting your question. Social rejection is painful in almost any context; being ostracized from others feels bad because it threatens many of our core needs, such as our need to belong.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski was recently quoted in Cosmopolitan magazine, although we're pretty sure that he didn't recommend the part about getting it on while listening to Ten.
If your relationship has become a bit stagnant, it likely lacks sufficient self-expansion. As we’ve discussed previously, self-expansion refers to people’s inherent desires to improve themselves and relationships serve as a key route to accomplishing this goal. However, many relationships are in a rut or otherwise feel a bit stagnant, stale, or boring. Want to learn about some strategies for improving your relationship that counteract boredom by fostering self-expansion? Read on...
One thing that researchers know about sex is that context matters. Think “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” A vacation provides a break from work or school, a chance to relax and let loose, and the opportunity to explore a new part of the world...but does a vacation also bring more opportunities for sex?
Summer is a terrific time to take a well-deserved vacation (click here to learn about what makes vacations great). Often those vacation plans include the opportunity to travel. Regardless of the specifics of your travel plans, you will often share the experience with a romantic partner.
Rarely do I see an ad for a reality TV dating show and think to myself, “Hey, that reminds me of a research study.” But somehow, some way, NBC’s new show Love in the Wild did just that. What I found amazing is that the show appears to have been created by someone who really enjoyed our post on how heightened arousal levels can result in greater attraction between partners.
Amanda asked “Elvis once sang, ‘I can't help falling in love with you.’ So... is love a conscious, rational choice or is it a chemical addiction that is uncontrollable?"
Good question, and perhaps the answer depends on how you view “love.” If you conceptualize love like Brick Tamland, San Diego’s favorite weatherman, then perhaps the answer is that love is rather conscious and only requires looking at objects and declaring your love for them. In that case, I love Science of Relationships!
In a previous post we talked about why celebrities cheat in their relationships. But what about the rest of the world? Why would they cheat? Certainly there are many things that contribute to relationship infidelity. One potential contributing factor is that one’s partner doesn’t provide enough new and exciting experiences within the relationship or what researchers call self-expansion.
The idea that “opposites attract” is what many (including Paula Abdul) would refer to as common sense. Yet, there is another common sense belief that “birds of a feather flock together.” Certainly both feel right and have an element of what Stephan Colbert would call “truthiness.” This is why relationship science is so important, because it provides the only way to know for sure which of these common sense ideas is true.
Previously we posted about the self-expansion model and relationship development. How does your relationship stack up?
Not Very Much 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very Much
- How much does being with your partner result in your having new experiences?
- When you are with your partner, do you feel a greater awareness of things because of him or her?
- How much does your partner increase your ability to accomplish new things?
- How much does your partner help to expand your sense of the kind of person you are?
- How much do you see your partner as a way to expand your own capabilities?
- How much do your partner’s strengths as a person (skills, abilities, etc.) compensate for some of your own weaknesses as a person?
- How much do you feel that you have a larger perspective on things because of your partner?
- How much has being with your partner resulted in your learning new things?
- How much has knowing your partner made you a better person?
- How much does your partner increase your knowledge?
60 and above — Highly Expansive. You are gaining a lot of new experiences and reaching new goals as a result of your relationship. Chances are you have a happier, more sustainable relationship as a result.
45 to 60 — Moderately Exciting. Your relationship has led to moderate improvements in your life and some new experiences. But there’s definitely room for improvement.
Below 45 — Low Connection. Your relationship is not creating opportunities that help expand your knowledge and make you feel better about yourself. Make an effort to share new experiences with your partner to improve your relationship.
In the past few months, research conducted by my friend and fellow ScienceOfRelationships.com contributor Dr. Gary Lewandowski and his colleagues has been featured across a number of media outlets, including the New York Times and CNN. He's much too modest to promote his own work, so I'll take the liberty of posting about it.
Click here for a link to the NYT piece about his work and here's a recent interview with Dr. Lewandowski on CNN, although he has to share time with a "non-relationship scientist" (trying to be nice here).
What I love about this work is that it is has much empirical support, and also that it is tied into the larger psychological literature on self-identity.