“You make me want to be a better man,” he told Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets.
It’s impossible not to respond to a line like that, if spoken honestly. Is there any greater compliment? You inspire him to be a better person, to be worthy of your love. Even if things don’t work out, you’ll always know you changed his life. You changed him.
But why does that line work so well?
What does science have to say about the relationship between love and self-improvement?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
Relationships help us grow as people. We learn to communicate and compromise. We learn to give and receive love. We negotiate the delicate balance between self-care and service.
And we also become bigger people, through a process called self-expansion.
In everyday life, we tend to think that who we are stops at the boundary of the body. This is me, and everything else is not me.
If we look more closely, we realize that’s not true. Psychologically, we are defined by our relationships. We embrace those we love as part of who we are. We wouldn’t be who we are today without our friends and family, who’ve shaped what we like and how we think.
The same goes for our romantic relationships.
Think about the last time you fell in love. Chances are, you felt as if you were merging into your beloved as if you were no longer two separate people but rather one. Falling in love helps dissolve the boundary between self and other, thereby expanding our sense of who we are.
That feeling of self-expansion is so important that it can make or break relationships.