Self-Expansion Theory and the Impact it has on Romantic Relationships

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Besides people developing a sense of self and the additional resources, relationships also lead to the development of differing perspectives. Individuals from different world locations could learn a lot from others’ worldview through their interactions. The self-expansion theory helps to identify and describe the incremental changes that occur on individual resources, identities and perspectives while in a relationship. The theory postulates that an individual’s life satisfaction is dependent on their sense of self expansion and growth throughout their lives. 

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Close relationships are only one way of creating expansion. Other means include creativity, spirituality and interaction with a valued object. People strive for opportunities that are self-expansive. For instance, new relationships and trying out new relationship activities help to keep an upbeat feeling of growth alive. As individuals grow they tend to include the positive elements of others within their self-concepts. Nonetheless, self-expansion is not necessarily selfish. Some posit that the feeling might be stronger than an individual’s need to make themselves feel good (Lewandoski, Aron, Bassis & Kunak, 2006). Additionally, self-expansion is not a conscious activity and people are not aware of why they need to try out new experiences or meet new people. This paper will delve into the importance, aspects, benefits and costs of the self-expansion theory. To do so, the paper will highlight Jessica and Timothy’s case to help identify the most important aspects of self-expansion theory and how it impacts romantic relationships.

Importance of Self-Expansion Theory

Close relationships lead to people discovering new aspects of life. The interaction with college partners, close friends, roommates will contribute to individuals changing so that they can be a little more similar with their interactions and vice versa. For example, one could develop an interest in sports if they interact with someone who is interested in either basketball or football games. Relationships help in the shaping of an individual’s identity. Moreover, they provide people with shared resources. For instance, if a close friend owns a vehicle it would be more likely that you a would get a ride to the grocery store. 

The theory opens a window into the reasons behind the initial attractions people develop and why satisfaction derived from the attraction deteriorates over time. The theory argues that the fundamental reasons behind the development of romantic relationships is that it provides opportunities for self-expansion and the attraction is a consequence of a non-conscious calculation of how much one individual can contribute to the self-expansion of another. Self-expansion helps to explain the increased levels of satisfaction and positive feelings in relationships that occur at the onset of the relationship. 

However, these feelings decline as people get to know each other plus the opportunities of self-expansion decline. The self-expansion theory draws a model of the satisfaction decline over time and how to improve relationship satisfaction. The results of the model have been proven through tests that involve asking couples to undertake a task together, like doing a puzzle, and spending time doing exhilarating things together, for instance spending time doing different things every day (40 Days of Dating, 2013).

Aspects of the Self-Expansion Theory

The self-expansion theory insists that people tend to absorb and integrate the characteristics and traits of their partners as a means of conceptualizing themselves. Various scholars have confirmed this observation as the inclusion of partner in the self (Ledbetter, 2013). This concept was examined by other scholars who developed studies that examined the distribution of resources. One study required that participants allocate money among a group of individuals including themselves. In some instances, individuals would not be aware if another person received the money or not. It occurred that individuals allocated money resources to themselves and their best friends almost equally but failed to allocate the same to an ‘outsider (Medvene, Teal & Slavich, 2000). In the case of Timothy and Jessie, Jessie observed that Timothy was happy about her Jolly mood. Timothy, on several occasions, indicated that he was growing closer to Jessie due to her upbeat mood and liveliness (40 Days of Dating, 2013, Day 22).

Another aspect is the preference to similarity. The self-expansion model argues that individuals find partner traits that are different to theirs as more valuable. The internalization of these traits enables the individual to the develop their own conceptualization. Timothy finds Jessie to a bit crazier than he is. He sees her as a person who needs definite and decisive definition of their relationship is or ought to be. On the other hand, Tim is more cautious and does not seem to want to commit but somehow finds the crazy side of Jessie as a turn on (40 Days of Dating, 2013, Day 16). Couples that exhibit dissimilar characteristics are more satisfied with their relationship. However, studies indicate that the benefits derived from differing characteristics declines as individuals become committed to each other. It is presumed that the increased level of commitment might limit the motive to expand the self (Amodio & Showers, 2005). This can be seen in Tim and Jessica resistance as they near the half of the project. It seems it is moving from being polite to real. 

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The novelty idea of spending the next 40 days doing a new thing every day and dating is new for both Jessie and Tim. Engaging in exciting activities and experiences together leads to growth. Such activities tend to lead to physical arousal as was depicted by Tim during the course of the project. Tim and Jessie engagement in exciting activities corresponds to relationship satisfaction and passionate love (40 Days of Dating, 2013 Day 24). Their sharing of these novel experience lead to self-expansion and satisfaction.


The self-expansion theory helps to define how romantic relationships are made and how they progress. It posits that individuals are motivated by curiosity, exploration, self-improvement and expanding of one’s perspective. Tim’s and Jessies 40 day project depicts these attributes. The aspects of the self-expansion theory define the intricacies of a romantic relationship and how interaction between two partners affects the relationship and the growth of self.

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  1. 40 Days of Dating. (2013). 40 Days of Dating40 Days of Dating. Retrieved 26 July 2017, from
  2. Amodio, D., & Showers, C. (2005). ‘Similarity breeds liking’ revisited: The moderating role of commitment. Journal Of Social And Personal Relationships22(6), 817-836.
  3. Ledbetter, A. (2013). Relational Maintenance and Inclusion of the Other in the Self: Measure Development and Dyadic Test of a Self-Expansion Theory Approach. Southern Communication Journal78(4), 289-310.
  4. Lewandoski, G., Aron, A., Bassis, S., & Kunak, J. (2006). Losing a self-expanding relationship: Implications for the self-concept. Personal Relationships13(3), 317-331.
  5. Medvene, L., Teal, C., & Slavich, S. (2000). Including the Other in Self: Implications for Judgments of Equity and Satisfaction in Close Relationships. Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology19(3), 396-419.
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