The Michelangelo Effect: How Love Sculpts Us Into Our Best Selves

How every relationship we have brings out our best qualities.

chisel art

"Love isn’t an emotion or an instinctit’s an art." -Mae West

In the way that great artists approach their masterpieces, our loving relationships sculpt us into the highest and best form of ourselves. This is their only job and their highest purpose. We entrust our loved ones to mirror and elicit from us the aspirations and values we hold so dear, so that in turn, the commitment to our relationships also becomes a commitment to ourselves.


In her 30 plus years of research, the late Caryl Rusbult coined the term, "The Michelangelo Effect," to describe this dynamic of close intimate relationships. Her studies demonstrated that love thrives and endures when both partner’s in a relationship understand that their focus should be on achieving the personal growth that each holds dear.

Michelangelo approached his art with this same eye. He once said, "In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it."


His work of setting free the figures that were sleeping inside the stone is the embodiment of love as art. His mastery and genius was the product of what he himself called "eternal patience," which reflects volumes of truth about what it takes to make love work in our lives.

Loving relationships of all kinds—whether they be with committed partners, parents, children, siblings or friends—are the most gentle and effective teachers of how to become the people we aspire to be. Accepting the flaws in the people we love and working with them is the same as Michelangelo sculpting his blocks of stone. Like him, we learn to discern minor imperfections from the deeper flaws that the "eternally patient" hand of love is able to see in the greater beauty of the piece. We create beauty from the inherent difficulties of loving the flaws and imperfections in each of us. Stop Blaming Others: The Power Of Owning Our Imperfections

As a young mother, I perceived my job of parenting in terms of sculpting my children to uncover the beauty and goodness inside each of them. Yet, the older they became, the more clearly I saw that my love for them was sculpting me (and probably more than I was ever able to shape them). This is because loving is first an inside job, especially in parenting. My own personal growth has always been the primary communicator for my children, and so it is with our lovers, parents or friends. Those who have loved me have continuously reflected back to me the moments when I've been true to myself, and even more painfully, when I haven’t.

The work of being sculpted into our highest selves is not for the faint of heart. Extending on the metaphor, cutting away the rough edges of stone that we use to defend our hearts can feel searing. And sometimes, it's hard to distinguish between losing parts of us that are real and necessary, and the parts that are just our ego.


Personally, I have been suffering these losses as my relationships with my children bend from my will to their more powerful independence. Learning the work of eternal patience with these new people, my teenagers, remains a daily lesson, and one that I can best integrate when focused on the whole work of art, which is my own heart.