Healthy relationships are the product of two individuals who are responsible for their own emotional health and who have something to give to a relationship. The relationship is the vessel that we build to hold and cultivate our best selves. When we are not driven by need, we have the opportunity to give freely, not measuring what we get back against what we give. We have the courage to look at ourselves honestly and the willingness to be held accountable to what we aspire to become. The late Caryl Rusbult, coined the term the “Michelangelo Effect” to describe this dynamic of close intimate relationships in her 30 plus years of research. Her studies demonstrated that love thrived and endured when the relationship’s meaning was interpreted through each partner’s ability to focus on and achieve the personal growth that was held dear.
Michelangelo approached his art with this same eye of love. He said “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” His work of setting free the figures that were sleeping inside the stone is the embodiment of love as art. His mastery and genius was the product of what he himself called: “eternal patience,” which reflects volumes of truth about what it takes to make love and marriage work in our lives.
Loving relationships of all kinds, whether with romantic committed partners, parents, children, siblings or friendships are the most gentle and effective teachers that life offers us to become the person we aspire to be. Accepting the flaws in the people we love and working with them is the same sculpting work that Michelangelo faced within his blocks of stone. Like a master stone cutter, we learn to discern minor imperfections from the deeper flaws that the “eternally patient” hand of love is able to integrate into the greater beauty of the piece. We create beauty from the inherent difficulties of loving the flaws and imperfections in each of us. This is the heart of a happy marriage.