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An Open Marriage of the Best Kind

There are some big changes on the marriage and commitment front. It used to be that love and loyalty were assumed to be the relational qualities most predictive of a couple remaining together. However, scientists now speculate that the level of commitment may depend more on how much a partner enhances your life and broadens your horizons. Arthur Aron, a psychologist and relationship researcher at Stony Brook University and Gary Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, call this quality of enhancement “self-expansion.”


Earlier studies by evolutionary psychologists made the connection between survival enhancement and a woman’s tendencies to choose a partner who would giver her sturdy offspring for whom he could then be protector and provider. As our physical and social survival became more assured and as women have become more financially self sufficient, we moved from mere ‘survival’ to ‘self-expansion’ and it’s various expressions.


It’s no longer enough for a marriage and it’s participants to just survive. Today’s partners want a satisfying relationship--one that is meaningful, enjoyable and sustaining for both individuals. How open is your marriage to being a partnership of mutual enhancement? What qualities would make it so for you? For your partner?


Try These Forms of Enhancement


Because flourishing as a modern woman now depends on education and intellectual development, being challenged to grow cognitively and to match each other’s mental abilities becomes a self-enhancing support in the bond. You enrich your relationship with the kinds of knowledge you each cultivate. Take a class, read a book, learn a new hobby or skill and share your expertise with your partner.


Expanding each other’s social connections is a huge benefit. Partnerships can bring people together, create community, and meet the essential human need for belonging, thereby enhancing the wellbeing of both individuals. People live longer when their social connections buffer them from isolation and the stress of loneliness. When you cultivate friendships, broaden connections, and interconnect them with your partnership you add another asset to your relational portfolio.


In the movie “ As Good as It Gets” Jack Nicholson’s character pays the ultimate compliment to the woman he has fallen for, saying, “You make me want to be a better person.”  She feels the satisfaction of her presence being a positive influence and he feels the motivation to become more of his best self. They are mutually enhancing of each other’s capabilities and capacities to be fully human. This enrichment is priceless. 


Introduce each other to new or novel experiences. In her late fifties a friend of mine was introduced to road biking by her fiancé.  Five years into their marriage they have shared the challenge of many century rides, felt the joy of raising money in the Ride for Multiple Sclerosis, and competed with people one-third their age in desert road bike races.  Draw up your “bucket list” and start trying new things together.


Self-growth is also available when you:

·    Hear helpful feedback only a partner could give,

·     Let your partner share a social, political, historical, or cultural perspective you hadn’t considered,

·     Share a weekend workshop together,

·     See how your partner manages things that are difficult for you.


If you and your partner are helping each other to improve and become better people, you become happier and more satisfied together. 


You can take the Self-Enhancement Quiz developed by Dr. Lewandowski and see how your relationship scores. 


Create an “emergent relationship,” a relationship where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!