Education and Growth

"Pleasure" Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

Can Education become a Threat to Marriage?

Suppose Maria decides to take a class or get another degree, John, her partner, may start feeling inadequate and worry about the security of their relationship. He may compare himself to Maria who is learning and growing. As we can see, it is not the learning that constitutes the threat, but John’s fearful perception of the relationship.

Sometimes a person’s continued education can become a threat to the marriage when one person fears becoming inferior as a result of it. An unspoken agreement exists in many marriages: “Don’t change. Don’t surpass me.” We want to stay in a comfort zone that we imagine means safety, but instead may result in diminishing the relationship and stifling both partners.

Our tendency to judge and compare ourselves to others stems from the emphasis our culture places on competition. While competition may motivate and inspire us, it can also defeat our attempt to develop in our own unique way. Unfortunately, comparisons can create feelings of inferiority or superiority that can greatly affect our interaction with others. If Maria were to feel superior to John because of her studies, her arrogance and condescension would prevent vital and mutually loving interaction. If she were to suffer from feelings of inferiority, her feelings would also dampen the energetic connection between them.


When comparing ourselves to others, we deny our own human qualities and uniqueness, which cannot be measured or compared to others. Everyone is different and special in their own way. When we stand apart to rank, categorize and pigeon-hole ourselves and others, we are no longer our authentic selves. Only when we’re in our own skin, so to speak, can we truly link with others. While objective analysis is helpful in science and technology, in human relations we need an awareness of the energy between others and ourselves. The very heart of a relationship lies in that intangible zone of energy, where meaning comes from the tone, the look, and the feeling far more than from the level of people’s education and skills.

The benefit of encouraging your partner

There are great benefits in encouraging a spouse to pursue their own path, whether it involves further education or other interests. First of all, there is nothing more loving and irresistibly attractive than having someone support us and believe in our endeavors and efforts. It builds our confidence when we take on challenges. It also may promote a reciprocal desire to encourage the partner to pursue his or her interests or find his or her own way of self-fulfillment, thus enriching both lives. Recall how Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets won over Helen Hunt by his sincere compliment, “You make me want to be a better man.”

Happiness is contagious

Recent research shows that “a married man is significantly more satisfied with his life when his wife becomes more satisfied with hers, and vice versa.”* British researcher Nick Powdthavee found that in married couples, happiness can overflow from one spouse to the other. Happiness can be contagious in marriage, even for a partner facing difficulties. The research shows that “married people become more satisfied with their life over the years merely because their spouses have become happier with theirs,” says Powdthavee. Interestingly, the same results were not seen among unmarried couples who lived together.

Education empowers

Education empowers people by engendering in them the ability to think with more nuance and complexity, an ability that can be transferred to different areas. Like any power, it can be used for good or for harm – to dominate people who know less or to empower people and enrich life.

Appreciation, not embarassment

Being with someone who has more knowledge in a certain area is like playing tennis with someone who plays a better game. He can either demolish you on the court or help you play a better game yourself. Similarly, the expert tennis player will enjoy the game more when the weaker player does not feel embarrassed and awkward, but appreciates the challenge and pleasure of having a talented partner.

Therefore, let us enjoy the ways in which our partners excel and let us support their growth, while we pursue our own interests with equal gratitude. The more we embrace the capacities and unique paths of friends and loved ones, the more our own world becomes infused with the fullness of their lives.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Were you out on the golf course again?”

Read “Why do you need to go back to school?”

Watch “Pursuing your Passions in Relationship.”

6 thoughts on “Education and Growth

      1. Anonymous

        Dear Alison,

        It’s okay to let people win from time to time, especially if it’s for fun. I haven’t bowled since my Girl Scout days! My longtime Girl Scout sister/friend will have to remind me of how we bowled in those golden days! 😉



  1. Anonynous

    Dear Alison,

    Your analogy of the correlation between appreciation and tennis players is relatable. A few months ago, one of my relatives complained about how rude people are in general, and so my resolutely emphatic response was: “It’s their loss. You’re on the winning side of the tennis court!” Do you agree that sports aggression such as tennis and bowling empowers those who are staunchly retaliating against the tyranny of the domineering?

    Thank you for your intriguing theories.

    Warm regards,


    1. Alison Post author

      Hmmm. People play sports in many different ways and for different reasons. It can be a healthy way to feel self-empowered–better than driving aggressively and wrecklessly and endanger other people. People can play aggressively with an intent to enjoy the competition, or with an intent to prove themselves, or with an intent to demolish the other person. People can play meekly to prevent the opponent feeling defeated, or they play and never feel good enough, belittling themselves after every move. I think the way one plays sports can be a wonderful analogy to life, or it can compensate for areas in life where we feel un-empowered. It’s very interesting to look at the way people play, especially to learn about oneself.


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