Gwendolyn Seidman Ph.D. PsychologyToday.Com
For good or bad, our partners influence us, and how we see ourselves.
When we are involved in serious romantic relationships, we find ourselves turning from a “me” to an “us”.1 This isn’t just a matter of semantics: The very nature of the self evolves through the relationship. We start to see our own self-concept as overlapping with that of our partner.2 That means that as we become increasingly committed, we find our self-concept actually changing—the “us” becomes “me.”3 But how does our self-concept change, and are these changes good or bad for us and our relationships?
According to Mattingly, Lewandowski, and McIntyre, our relationships can change our self-concepts in two ways:4
- First, the size of your self-concept can change. It can expand, to include new traits or to make existing traits more prominent. For example, a man may discover a passion for gourmet cuisine after dates involving the preparation of elaborate meals. Alternatively, the size of your self-concept could shrink because the relationship has caused certain aspects of the self to be lost. This can happen because the relationship has caused you to neglect certain parts of yourself. For example, a woman may no longer feel beautiful because her husband is critical of her appearance. This could also occur if you suppress traits that are discouraged by your partner, such as a man becoming less aggressive because his wife objects to that kind of behavior.
- Secondly, the valence of your self-concept can change—that is, the extent to which you perceive these changes to yourself as positive or negative. The examples above include both positive and negative changes. And in fact, even negative relationship events could still bring about positive self-concept changes, such as the discovery of one’s own personal strengths in the face of a relationship crisis.
Because both the size and valence of our self-concept can shift, there are four distinct types of self-concept changes that can occur as our relationships become increasingly serious and interdependent4:
- Self-expansion. We add new, positive information to the self-concept. This can occur as we incorporate aspects of our partners’ personalities into our own and engage in new and stimulating activities with our partners.2
- Self-contraction. We lose positive self-concept content. For example, a man may be an avid baseball fan, but when his wife refuses to watch games with him, his interest wanes and being a sports fan is no longer an important aspect of his identity.
- Self-pruning. We lose or suppress negative self-concept content. Unlike self-contraction, in which the loss of traits makes the self-concept more negative, self-pruning improves the self-concept. Sometimes just being in a relationship can lead to a reduction in negative traits. For example, those who are married are less lonely. Other times, our partners can help us purge undesirable traits, such as a smoking habit, a weight problem, or a lack of self-confidence.
- Self-adulteration. We gain negative traits. This can occur when being in the relationship consistently changes your behavior for the worse. For example, if disagreements with her boyfriend lead a woman to criticize him, she may, over the course of the relationship, come to see herself as a critical person, especially if her boyfriend views her in that way and complains about her nagging and disapproval.
So, your relationship can change your self-concept, for better or worse. But how do these changes to your self-concept affect your relationship, as it continues to evolve?
Thus, the impact your relationship has on your self-concept will, in turn, affect how you feel about your relationship. More than that, it will affect how you treat your partner and the efforts that you make to maintain your relationship. When your relationship changes you for the better, you’ll go the extra mile for the sake of that relationship.
Some Good Advice
Separation isn’t always the way to go when you find that a partner isn’t all you want or maybe affecting you poorly. How about the children? How will it affect them? I speak from experience because my parents separated. There again, if you are getting along so badly it is affecting your children, outside assistance has not changed matters for you, it may be necessary to separate for their sake.
Keep in mind that many couples have managed to work things out quite well when each one works out how they have contributed to discord and what they can do to improve things, instead of resisting change – each one blaming the other (I’ve known couples like that who could otherwise be happy). One couple kept insisting the other should change, not him/her. That's silly, nothing's going to change that way but when both of us are willing, there is something to be gained - maybe more than either of you expected.
Please also consider this: about every 7-10 years, we all change a little (individually speaking). This is often when some people get disappointed and want to give up, saying “He/She’s changed!” (they’re not the person I married) because they weren’t ready for that and did not grow together.
Also, many people do show their best side before they’re committed and leave their other-side to later…….then the illusion they created often breaks like a bubble. That’s why some people want to “try before they buy” but that creates it's own problems. Yes, it can cause really sticky situations and become quite damaging emotionally. You’re far better off “Being Yourselves as you really are” before marriage (where there are not illusions, there can be no disillusion – not many people think of that, do they? It’s much less risky, especially where little hearts and minds are involved. It cuts down the confusion factor, it really does.
Sometimes, what's to guarantee you won't make the same mistake with someone else or they won't with you? And for some, it's discontent. Isn't it better (most times) to work things out with what and who you have than switching and changing? You know what you're dealing with instead of another mystery package. Whose to say you won't find "love is better the second time around" with the same spouse? I've heard people's stories like that. It's a kinder reality than repeated mistakes when we want to escape.
Excerpt From A 2nd Article I Found On PsychologyToday.Com
Break-Ups Require Massive Self-Change
It hurts, but it's true: A loss of love can mean a loss of self. Many people experience serious self-confusion (“I don’t know who I am anymore”) as their self-concept shrinks post-breakup (Lewandowski, Aron, Bassis, and Kunak, 2006). When adjusting to a breakup, people face the hard work of disentangling the parts of their self-concept they wish to keep from those that were tied to their former partner and are charged with the task of rebuilding a new sense of self.
It’s clear that our self-concepts aren’t as stable as we might think and that our partners have a great deal of power in shaping our future selves. We are profoundly affected by those we love, responding (unconsciously) to their influence and becoming different people over time. All of this echoes the importance of choosing a partner carefully, one who has traits and characteristics that you aspire toward so that you might change in a favorable direction.
Keep in mind that as much as you're under the influence of your partner, your partner is under your influence as well. So use your power wisely, and choose a partner who already is what you need and are looking for (not unrealistically) so that you can devote your energy to enjoying your time together, rather than trying to change that person into someone else.