06/09/2017 08:47 BST | Updated 06/09/2017 08:47 BST

Partner Power: Supportive Relationships Linked To Personal Development

Your romantic partner can be a source of encouragement or discouragement and whether they uplift you or deflate you can determine what you achieve in life. New research also suggests that if you have a partner that is supportive, you are more likely to take advantage of opportunities for personal growth that come your way (Feeney et al. 2017). On the other hand, if your partner is not so supportive of you in your relationship, you are more likely to forgo opportunities for personal growth.

In this study, 163 married couples who had been married on average 9.68 years and romantically involved for an average of 12 years, were divided into two roles where one was given a decision making role and the other, unbeknown to either of them, was observed for their role in supporting their spouse during the decision-making process. The 'decision-maker' was given the choice to accept the potentially challenging opportunity of giving a speech and compete for a prize worth up to $200 or decline it in favour of the non-challenging opportunity of solving a very simple puzzle for no external reward.

The researchers found that those with a supportive spouse - as determined via questionnaires and secret cameras - were more likely to take advantage of the potentially challenging opportunity. The researchers also found that those who had supportive partners and had opted for the challenging task during the first phase of the study, alsoreported more personal growth, mental well-being and better relationship experiences six months later than those who had opted for the simple puzzle task.

Clearly, your choice of partner can influence your personal growth via the way in which he or she supports or hinders your decision making when it comes to important choices that will help you to develop yourself as a person, increase your skills, achieve goals and develop your self-image. As demonstrated by the research, and as one would expect, how you personally develop over time is integral to how happy you will feel and this will inevitably impact the quality of your marriage or partnership.

Applying This To Your Romantic Relationship

Is your partner a source of emotional support, do they help you to believe in yourself and encourage you to take on challenges that help you to develop as a human being or are they unsupportive, undermine your self-belief and directly or indirectly prevent your personal growth? You'll know the answer to this by reflecting on past words and behaviours they have used and watching out for their future communication and action.

If they consistently voice words of encouragement and help you in practical ways to pursue your goals, for example, through helping you to overcome any challenges themselves or taking on other responsibilities you have so that you have more time to pursue your new goals, they're a supporter. If they inconsistently voice words of encouragement or mostly use discouraging sentiments and do not often help you in practical ways, to pursue your goals (or only do so begrudgingly), they are not a supporter. If the latter is the case, you need to (a) find out what is motivating their unsupportive behaviour, (b) decide if there is anything you can do to change this to make them genuinely supportive and take action on this and then (c) decide whether you want the repercussions on your life, happiness and well-being of being with someone who is unwilling or incapable of supporting you.

What's The Motivation Behind The Behaviour?

Now if you want to understand yours or your partner's motives for encouraging/supporting or not encouraging/supporting one another in making decisions that lead to the other's personal development, here are some statements to consider (taken from the study) and see which list your/their motivations mostly fall under, the first or the second.

The motivation behind supporting/encouraging is:

  • to avoid negative consequences;
  • to keep the partner (avoid relationship break-up);
  • to avoid having to pursue your own goals;
  • to gain rewards;
  • because you/they feel obligated to.

The motivation behind supporting/encouraging is:

  • your love one another;
  • because you enjoy helping;
  • to help you connect with your partner;
  • to make your partner feel good;
  • because you love them and, therefore, enjoy helping them.

The first list states relatively selfish motives and the second list states relatively altruistic motives. The selfish motives may stem from low self-esteem or insecurity within the relationship or mere self-centredness. Either way, those issues need attention if you are to go on and have a healthy, happy, lasting relationship.

Remember, a supportive partner encourages personal growth which in turn leads to psychological well-being and a happier, healthier relationship. For your relationship to flourish, you both need to flourish.


Feeney, B. C., Van Vleet, M., Jakubiak, B. K., & Tomlinson, J. M. (2017). Predicting the Pursuit and Support of Challenging Life Opportunities. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43 (8), 1-17. DOI: 10.1177/0146167217708575