What Is a Personal Growth Marriage?

Viewing marriage through the lens of self-actualization.

Posted Jun 01, 2020

Source: xinhui/pixabay

In Eli Finkel’s book, The All or Nothing Marriage, he first discusses marriage from the founding of our country through the year 1850, where the dominant form of marriage was the Pragmatic Marriage. The Pragmatic Marriage was designed to help spouses meet basic survival needs. In 1850, the Industrial Revolution relieved couples' struggle to meet basic survival needs, so from 1850 to 1965, the Love-Based Marriage was dominant, where love was the basis for a fulfilling marriage. Since 1965, we have been firmly planted in what Finkel refers to as the Self-Expressive Marriage.

When I teach, I refer to the latest model of marriage as the Personal Growth Marriage, which includes self-expression but also healing from past traumas, addressing intimacy needs, creativity, purpose, meaning, and contribution.

Abraham Maslow defined self-actualization as the realization or fulfillment of one's talents and potentialities, which is a drive and need present in everyone. As more and more people have grasped the concept that personal growth is possible for them, the self-help industry has exploded. More people are exploring therapy and growth-oriented workshops, and they're making self-actualization a central component of their lifestyle.

The explosion was fueled by a number of occurrences. When the birth control pill became available in 1961, it marked the launch of the sexual revolution. The Feminist movement sent women into the workplace in massive numbers. The Civil Rights movement brought attention and focus to individual rights. Large numbers of people began quests to find meaning by investigating their inner life. Individuals who were passionate about self-discovery naturally gravitated to partners with similar areas of interest and that’s when personal growth marriages were born. Their contracts with each other are to help one another evolve into who they can become. Healing, growth, authenticity, and self-actualization are their mutual goals.

It was Abraham Maslow too who eloquently described the hierarchy of needs that have to be met before we can attain self-actualization. Level one is our most basic needs, our physical needs (air, food, water, and shelter). Once we are secure, we can move on to level two, which is safety (physical and psychological safety, economic security, predictability, and a sense of control). Level three is the need for love and belonging (friendship, to love others, be loved by others, to trust, and romantic love including sexual intimacy). Level four is esteem, both self-esteem and esteem from others, (self-respect and a sense of mastery). Level five is the highest level attainable: self-actualization (composed of autonomy, spontaneity, self-expression, meaning, purpose, and developing our signature strengths).

In All or Nothing Marriage, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to climbing a mountain. Any mountain climber whose goal is to summit a formidable peak knows that they must train for the event. They consistently climb lesser mountains to build stamina, make sure they have good equipment, and solicit advice from climbers who have reached the summit before them. Those with experience give them useful data about what to anticipate so that they can be prepared to meet the many challenges that lie before them.

One way to train to be eligible for attaining the summit of personal growth work is to learn to ask the right questions. We delve deeply until we are satisfied that we are coming up with answers to profound questions. In doing so, we strengthen ourselves and become hearty and ready to summit.

Here are some questions to use for our emotional fitness workouts:

  • Are there significant parts of myself that have atrophied due to my neglect that now need to be revived and reclaimed?
  • Is there a version of myself that I envisioned in my teens or early twenties, that I gave up on and is still awaiting release?
  • Have I deemed myself unworthy of living a life of true authenticity?
  • Am I living a lie or am I living my authentic life?
  • Have I faced my mistakes and learned from them so I can make wiser choices in the future?
  • Is there something of crucial importance that I have denied because it would upset my orderly life?
  • What might I have overlooked, neglected, or left untried that would serve me if I risked exploring it now?
  • Am I living a script someone else wrote for me rather than writing my own script?
  • What are my unique gifts to give my community? Am I fully giving my gifts?
  • Is there a path beckoning to me from which I have turned away?

When a couple takes on the challenge of doing personal growth work together, they have a chance to identify the ways in which they may be settling for less than is actually available. We all have the opportunity to make a correction before it’s too late. When we are blessed to have a co-creative partner, our commitment to support each other’s growth will take us into the higher reaches of what is possible.

Together we can make changes so that we are living a life of development, authenticity, and well-being. Discovering and developing our previously underutilized potential brings fresh life not only to us as a couple, but also touches all those we interface with. It is work, but it is worth it.