Caryl Rusbult was the queen of close relationships. For more than 30 years, and for the past six years at Vrije University in Amsterdam, she studied how some men and women form lasting, supportive marriages. Rusbult’s work led her to conclude that close partners are interpersonal artists, sculpting one another’s strengths and weaknesses so as to bring out the best in each other. She called this the Michelangelo Phenomenon, a reference to the great Renaissance sculptor who said that he used a chisel to release ideal figures from blocks of stone in which they slumbered.
And the discussion would have been lively. Shortly after meeting one another in the early 1980s, Reis and Rusbult got into a fierce debate at a psychology conference about what people really want in close relationships. Reis championed emotional intimacy. Rusbult insisted that partners want to coordinate their behavior so they can achieve goals that each holds dear.
“Ten years and much research later, I was convinced that she was right,” Reis says.
Real-life dating and married couples provided her team with glimpses of the Michelangelo Phenomenon in action. Time and again, romantic pairings succeeded if each partner detected the other’s self-reported dreams and aspirations and found ways to guide him or her toward those goals. This process hinged on identifying and working with a partner’s personal flaws, just as a sculptor incorporates irregularities in a block of stone into a masterpiece.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Relationship Scholar Dies
The academic community lost an important researcher, Caryl Rusbult. From her obit in Science News: