We all know that marriage changes us, but new research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships looks at exactly how that process happens and the specific changes we can expect to see based on the way we respond to the ups and downs of married life. According to the study, there are 4 ways couples change as a result of their marriage, two of which are positive and two are negative.
Positive Marital Changes
Self-Expansion: Is the tendency to develop new, positive qualities (e.g., patience, generosity, joy) as a result your interactions with your spouse.
Self-Pruning: Represents your tendency to outgrow negative personal traits that you used to have (e.g., short-temper, selfishness, pettiness) because of your spouse’s positive influence on you.
Negative Marital Changes
Self-Contraction: Is when positive personal traits you brought into the marriage (e.g., conscientiousness, thoughtfulness, kindness) are undermined or eliminated because of your relationship with your spouse.
Self-Adulteration: Refers to how you can develop new, negative personality traits (e.g., resentment, childishness, passive-aggression) because of your spouse’s influence.
How Do We Change?
It might be tempting to blame our spouse for “making” us change in these ways, but the research shows that whether we develop positive or negative traits as a result of our marriage depends entirely on how we choose to respond to our mate. People who respond to challenges in the marriage and in married life by choosing to be forgiving, generous, and willing to sacrifice tend to experience more positive personal growth as well as both more life satisfaction and more general sense of well-being than people who respond to these same challenges by lashing out, seeking revenge, threatening or entertaining fantasies of divorce, or committing or entertaining fantasies of infidelity. Our choices in the marriage directly determines the way our marriage will change us, for better or worse.
The Faith Connection
Our faith teaches that we “find ourselves by making a gift of ourselves” (Gaudium et Spes). This study offers one more example of how true that statement is. Marriage isn’t easy, but if we choose to respond to the challenges we face over the course of our married life by cultivating the generous, forgiving, accommodating spirit that “self-donation” (that generosity of spirit St John Paul II spoke of in his Theology of the Body) asks of us, we can become better, more joyful, healthier and happier people.
If you’d like to discover the secrets of experiencing more “for better” than “for worse” in your marriage, check our For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Suviving & Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, and When Divorce Is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love, or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Tele-Counseling Practice to speak with a Catholic therapist about how you can transform the heart of your marriage and become the person God is calling you to be.