Relationships are characterized by a mutual influence between those involved in a marriage or courtship. Some of these influences are linked to what in psychology is called the Michelangelo effect.
In this article we will explain what is and what is the Michelangelo effect?, to what phenomenon it is linked, to what positive consequences it generates and how it can be used in psychotherapy.
What is the Michelangelo effect?
The Michelangelo effect is the process of modeling, sculpture, which is entrusted to couples so that each member of this success develops his ideal. This is how each member of the couple acts as a reinforcement and support so that the other can achieve their goals and evolve to show their best version.
It is important to note that this effect will be reciprocal, that is to say that it will be reciprocally given to the relation and always with the aim of helping the other, and not with the intention of changing it to our convenience.
So let’s see how the couple can be fundamental for a correct and optimal personal development, because if we do not have the support of our partner, it will be much more difficult to achieve this goal. Given its importance in the area of intimate relationships, this effect has been used in couples therapy to make them healthier and more satisfying.
The relationship of the Michelangelo effect with the Pygmalion effect
The Pygmalion effect is observed when one person’s beliefs influence another’s behavior. We have a typical example in the beliefs or conception that a teacher has of his student. If the expectations presented are positive, the student is more likely to perform better; on the other hand, if the student’s conception of the student is bad, grades and behavior are more likely to be worse.
Therefore, this effect can have a positive or negative effect on the person whose belief is. If these are positive, it will generate an increase in the subject’s self-esteem and functioning; on the contrary, if they are negative we will see that their self-esteem decreases, as well as the quality or behavior related to the belief.
So we see that for this phenomenon to occur, belief in someone has to be firm, that the subject who has them has to be encouraged to achieve such a belief, and that there is hope that this will happen. With respect to this last point, we see that this effect it is related to the self-fulfilling prophecy, which states that the mere manifestation of expectations causes the person in question to manifest or meet those expectations.
This phenomenon can have a powerful effect because it gives us the ability to influence another person by changing their behavior and responding to our beliefs or expectations. This is why this effect has been studied in different fields, be they social, professional, family, couple or educational. If we put it to good use, with positive beliefs and expectations, we can reap powerful benefits.
The Michelangelo effect on couple dynamics
Once the Pygmalion effect has been explained and understood, we will see the particular case of the Michelangelo effect that will be observed in relationships, affecting it positively.
It is no coincidence that this effect bears the name of the famous Italian sculptor, because this phenomenon consists of sculpting; each member of the couple will shape the other according to the way they imagine or want them to be their ideal Self. By ideal I mean the characteristics or qualities that we would like to have both internal and external, as well as the goals and objectives that we want to achieve.
In this way, the sculpting process to achieve the ideal self, each’s highest exponent, will be carried out by both members of the couple, and the way to increase these characteristics or qualities will be through positive reinforcement: if we show that we like a behavior, it is more likely that it increases and repeats itself.
It may sound paradoxical, but we see how connecting with another person and the support and reinforcement we receive is one of the most powerful elements for our personal development and does not depend solely on individual work or process.
We see how an important element to emphasize is the mutual and positive effect that is generated: this phenomenon is not reflected only in the influence of one member of the couple on the other, nor can it be this negative influence. . If we know that for our partner being a patient is an important quality, but we do not value this characteristic and do not reinforce it, we would not evolve properly, and in this case we could not speak of the Michelangelo effect.
It is also important to point out that this relationship of modification that is established is healthy and balanced. That is, we must not fall into the error of interpreting this effect as a toxic relationship where the intention is to change the other as we please, without focusing on reinforcing the positive characteristics that we know that our partner is important, but we want to shape it as we want without our ever intending to change.
Mutual perceived instrumentality
A term related to this effect is that of perceived mutual instrumentality, which far from being a selfish or negative process, refers to our partner’s ability to get our best version. In this way, the couple will be seen as a positive instrument that reinforces our best qualities through the love and support we receive in the face of some of our most valued behaviors, thus producing a role model that will harness our full potential.
We therefore observe again that in the domain of the couple each of its components will be the perfect reinforcement to enhance the positive qualities of the other, generating a mutually rewarding interaction, where each member of the couple achieves their ideal of self and personal goals through the constant strengthening, support and validation of their partner.
We check that the subject chosen for this massage is the couple and not another individual close to the person, because it is with them that a stronger and constant interaction will take place, being a fundamental pillar for us. For that, it’s normal that we want to show you our best version and therefore make it easier for our ideal self to express itself..
The success of our objectives with the support
So we see that the Michelangelo effect aims to work in another way to achieve our goals. Normally, and even more so in the society in which we live, it is common that the approach adopted to achieve our goals is individual, that is, without support and to strengthen oneself; but since the path to achieving these goals is usually neither short nor easy it is very likely that we will have moments of weakness when it will be difficult for us to continue to achieve our objectives, it is for this reason that the reinforcement and the external support of our partner will be essential.
Having someone to encourage us to follow, to give us unconditional support, to remind us of our positive qualities and all that we have for good, is essential to help us in our worst times and not get bogged down in them, thus preventing complications or worse consequences such as mood swings or anxiety.
This reinforcing role will usually be performed by our partner, because he will be the person with whom we will share the most time, being a powerful element of support, because he is a person that we value and who is important to us. If, on the other hand, we do not feel supported by our partner, it is highly likely that we will not achieve our goals..
The power of this effect will fall on the good intention and the full knowledge that we have of the other person, in other words this phenomenon will have its effect if the intention of the couple is not to change the other, but to change the other person. move away for the better. Therefore, the goal is altruistic, we do not act for our own benefit, but with the aim of helping and supporting the other in achieving their goals and developing their best traits and skills.
The usefulness of the Michelangelo effect in couple therapy
Thus, we see the importance of the other person, especially those with whom we establish a more intense bond, in the success of our goals and the development of our qualities. This effect is used in psychological therapy to treat partner problems, with the aim that the therapist forms and reinforces the perception of the positive characteristics of the other and does not focus only on the evil.
In this way, we have seen that the increase in the reinforcement and the positive consideration of the other and the empowerment of the ideal self make the relationship more stable and the subjects more satisfied. Likewise, achieving the full development of each member will be the only way to achieve a healthy relationship.
- Eckel, S. (2019) The Michelangelo Effect. Psychology today.
- Rusbult, C .; Finkel, E .; Kumashiro, M. (2009) The Michelangelo Phenomenon. Current guidelines in psychological science.
- Rivas, MªE .; López, M. and González, MªR. (2018) CEDE Handbook on PIR Preparation. Social and organizational psychology. Yield: Edition 5ª.