2. Become a sculptor
A man who’s in a long-term relationship sometimes says of his partner, “She brings out the best in me.” That’s actually true. In the best relationships, partners support and encourage each other in ways that help both of them become the people they want to be.
Summarizing results from recent studies, Eli Finkel, Ph.D., a psychologist at Northwestern University, concluded that the more each partner promotes the other’s ideal self, the better a relationship functions and the happier both partners are. Researchers call this the “Michelangelo phenomenon,” because the famed Renaissance sculptor described his artistry as releasing the sculpture residing in a block of stone.
Your move: Map out long-term goals for yourselves. Doing this allows you to help each other without adding unnecessary pressure. (It’s remarkably easy to go from gently prodding your unemployed partner to apply for jobs to berating her because she’s not taking the exact steps you think she should be taking.) The best way to make sure you’re supporting her without coming across as a stage manager, Finkel says, is to spend time once or twice a year going over those goals. That way you can gain a more specific idea of the kind of encouragement your partner actually wants. Try asking straight out, “What’s the best way I can help you?” For instance, if she already has a job but secretly harbors dreams of switching her career to nursing, she might appreciate a gentle reminder about registering for night classes or a celebratory dinner when she does well on a big test.