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. At its foundation, this research is not explicitly about relationships, although that’s primarily what we’re interested in. Instead, the self-expansion model1 is a much more broad, overarching perspective that discusses a fundamental human needs to seek out opportunities to gather new knowledge and become a more complex (in a good way) version of the self. It proposes a dynamic process of continual human growth and development; that we’re not static (or stagnant) beings. Instead we are motivated to have new experiences and learn new things. That’s why you’re reading this website, right? You are curious and want to learn about new stuff; that’s self-expansion!
When you apply this idea to close relationships, you come to understand that one way in which relationships are mutually fulfilling for the partners involved is that your spouse, significant other, boy/girlfriend, etc., can facilitate your own growth (and vice versa, hopefully). What’s really cool about the self-expansion model is that it provides a mechanism for a whole range of things that occur in relationships. For example, it speaks to why we might be attracted to certain people over others (i.e., one person offers abundant opportunities for growth compared to others), what strategies might be effecting in making that first date a success (i.e., do something novel and exciting, like bungee jumping) and why certain relationships are more fulfilling than others (i.e., greater opportunities for self-expansion). It also makes predictions about how relationships develop over time (e.g., early in a relationship you spend tons of time together, learning new things about each other) and how they are sustained (e.g., engaging in new and exciting activities together). In addition, this perspective offers explanations for why one might stray from a partner (e.g., a new partner might offer new opportunities for self-expansion),2 why some relationships eventually fizzle out (e.g., boredom that occurs when self-expansion with a current partner dries up), why breakup can hurt so much (e.g., losing a piece of oneself),3 and how we can cope with breakups in a positive way (e.g., consider the ending of a relationship as an opportunity for new sources of self-expansion).4
While it’s a powerful way of thinking about relationships, the self-expansion model is only one of many perspectives on relationship functioning. In upcoming posts we’ll look at other theories and areas of research that have much to say about lots of different aspects of relationships. But for now, kudos to Dr. Lewandowski and his colleagues!
If you want to take a quiz to see how self-expanding your relationship is, click here.
1Aron, A., & Aron, E. N. (1997). Self-expansion motivation and including other in the self. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research, and interventions (2nd ed., pp. 251-270). London: John Wiley & Sons.
2Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., & Ackerman, R. A. (2006). Something’s missing: Need fulfillment and self-expansion as predictors of susceptibility to infidelity. The Journal of Social Psychology, 146, 389-403.
3Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., Aron, A., Bassis, S., & Kunak, J. (2006). Losing a self-expanding relationship: Implications for the self-concept. Personal Relationships, 13, 317-331.
4Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., & Bizzoco, N. (2007). Addition through subtraction: Growth following the dissolution of a low quality relationship. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 40-54.
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.