Michelangelo Phenomenon

19 February 2019

2.9 MINS

Most weekday mornings Alison and I get up at about 5.40AM, push each other out of bed, and go for our early morning ‘Gym & Fitness Walk Session’, at least that’s what I call it. We walk down to the gym about 2-3 minutes and hold hands as we walk. We work out together and then we take a longer route back to our home all the while holding hands with an occasional kiss, especially in springtime.

It’s taking a great deal more determination these days to get out of bed because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But we still are able to prod each other into action most mornings in the name of staying fit and staying in love.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics describes basic principles familiar in everyday life. It is partially a universal law of decay; the ultimate cause of why everything ultimately falls apart and disintegrates over time. Both of us are aware of the struggle against entropy and we see the value in keeping fit and staying in love. We push each other in these areas which helps defeat decay in both our bodies and in a marriage.

We are both very aware of the words of Andre Maurois who said, “Marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day”. It is easy to fall in love, but you have to fight to stay in love. That’s why we prod each other and encourage each other in our mutual goals of having a good marriage and keeping ourselves fit. Some people call this process of mutual encouragement sculpting.

However I have also found out that scientists call it ‘The Michelangelo Phenomenon’.

Pat Vaughan Tremmel puts it well in this article also found in All You Need is Love:

A international review of seven papers on “the Michelangelo phenomenon” shows that when close partners affirm and support each other’s ideal selves, they and the relationship benefit greatly.

“To the degree that the sculpting process has gone well, that you have helped mould me toward my ideal self, the relationship functions better and both partners are happier. And over the long term, I more or less come to reflect what my partner sees and elicits from me,” said Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University . . .

. . . The Michelangelo studies show that close partners sculpt one another’s traits and skills and promote, versus inhibit, one another’s goal achievement. “It’s not just that you treat me positively,” Finkel said. “You treat me in particular ways that dovetail with my ideal self.

Both my wife and I really want to stay fit and are trying to keep our weight down. The sculpting business didn’t work over Christmas; in fact we seem to have got more marble around our middle, but it does seem to work most of the time. Both Alison and I try to support each other in our hobbies and vocations. She makes the most sacrifice without doubt (without it you wouldn’t get this weekly newsletter), but I also try to encourage her in her craft and music activities.

The bottom line is that the ‘two shall become one’ or as the saying goes, ‘one for all and all for one’. The cult of individualism only works for narcissists and they are impossible to live with.

So what has this got to do with excellence in fathering?

If you want to be the best dad you can be, you must embrace excellence in marriage, and that is just about the hardest thing in the world. Theodore Hesburgh was right to say, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother”.

Several years ago we put together a documentary called ‘The Marriage Revolution’. In many ways it was very counter-cultural and it is even more so today. One of the statistics that has come up is that 70% of the inmates in juvenile detention centres in the USA come from broken homes. The statistics for fatherlessness correlate almost perfectly.

What is the answer? As fathers, we have to work on our marriages. Allow some excess marble to be chopped off by the love of your life. When people ask you why you are suffering so much, just tell them that you are a Michelangelo in the making.


Read Michelangelos Make Smart Lovers to your wife and ask her where she wants to aim the chisel. Change does hurt, but our children will get better fathers out of better marriages and after all, aren’t our children what matters most?

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