That crazy thing we call love is maybe one of the most psychologically studied and still least understood areas in human life. It can be one of the strongest ties that bind couples in the long run
Do you think the fact that love is still so misunderstood might be because most of the studies of romantic relationships are not cone in real life, but instead, in the lab? Adding insult to injury, many of the studies involve dating relationships between convenient samples, usually undergraduate students. I am sure that these students are capable of close intimate relationships, I doubt that most of them have matured enough to really know themselves, much less what they want from a romantic partner. What do you think?
I can imagine a better way; how about we find out about love by surveying the experts? Not the PhD psychology experts, I mean the expert members of couples who have been married 10 years or longer. (I know, that makes too much sense.) The surprising findings of a recent study, reported in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, showed not only that many people were still in love even after 10 years of marriage, but which factors predicted the strength of their passion.
A research team at Stony Brook University on Long Island provided a bold contrast to the usually gloomy view of long-term marriages. Instead of being hopelessly fated to a mediocre life, these couples demonstrated their positive feelings with what some might describe as gusto. Forty percent of those married over 10 years reported being “very intensely in love” (the top of the scale) and another 15 percent gave their marriages the second highest rating on the intensity scale. Maybe even more surprising to the politically correct was that folks who stayed married for 30 years or more gave their marriages the highest ratings. Forty percent of the women and 35 percent of the men reported being intensely in love, and to everyone’s surprise, many couples were able to maintain very high levels of passion as the years and decades went by, and throughout their middle and late years of life.
Forty percent of those
married over 10 years
“very intensely in love”
(the top of the scale)
Now it is true that not everyone felt the same degree of intensity about their partners. Focusing on the classic features of love, another study was done to see which ones had the highest degrees of intensity. Those features were passion, commitment, closeness, emotional needs, ability to communicate, etc. I know, you are saying that those things are important to any relationship and you would be correct. Nevertheless, when it comes to guessing which relationships will make it in the long run, those questions become as practical as romance based.
It turns out that the people who are most intensely in love are those who feel a giant romantic attraction and also enjoy “self-expanding” shared activities that are new and stimulating. Based on findings from fMRI studies, it was assumed that “big love” would involve regular, strong, doses of dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that pumps up the brain’s reward circuits. Since they couldn’t measure dopamine using a telephone survey, they used questions that would reveal the amount of pleasure partners felt when they were around each other.
Now that you’ve become a little more familiar with these studies, you can use these findings to look at your own relationship. See how you would rate your closest romantic relationship (marriage or otherwise) based on these 12 areas.
Assumption of positive intent. Maintaining positive thoughts about your partner keeps you focused on the good, not the bad, with regard to your partner’s personal qualities. Reflecting about the things that bother you leads you to heighten the small imperfections, making your partner even more frustrating to you than normal. Couples in good relationships participate in “sentiment override,” meaning they remember more of the good than the not good experiences together.
Maintaining positive thoughts
about your partner keeps you
focused on the good, not the bad.
Thinking about your partner when apart. When you are away from your mate for the day, the evening, or even an extended period of time, do you just forget they exist? Are you an out of sight and out of mind person? If so, this may be a sign that you’re not particularly in love. You can’t spend every second apart pining away for them, but the reality that your partner isn’t there should at least cross your mind at times throughout the day.
Can’t concentrate on other things when thinking about your partner. If you’re able to blank out your thoughts about your partner easily, this implies that your partner takes up only a bit of your cognitive load. Multitasking isn’t possible but even if it was, it isn’t desirable when it comes to reflection on your partner. In one study, this item was particularly important for men.
Enjoy new and stimulating activities…together. Like certainly attracts like when it comes to personal activities and hobbies. Spending time together is important, as you’ll see as you read on, but it’s how you spend your time that impacts your relationship satisfaction even more. Couples can improve their love for each other when they spend their time together exploring new and challenging activities. This factor is especially applicable for us men. Guys, if you’re going bungee jumping for the first time ever, your relationship will profit from you and your partner facing this challenge together. If you’re not up to bungee jumping, seek out other stimulating ways to spice up your daily schedules.
Spending time together. Who are we kidding, if you love someone, you want to spend time with that person. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the more time you spend together, the more your love grows. The time you spend should include some new and challenging things to do, as shown in No. 4. However, even spending time together in routine household activities enhances your love’s intensity. That garage remodeling you’ve been planning to start actually can become how you and your partner strengthen your emotional connections. Cooking, gardening, shopping, and even vacuuming the house, are ways to reinforce your love. This factor is more important for men to keep an eye on.
Be affectionate. Feeling love toward your partner is important, but so is expressing that love in physical ways. Think of it as the kiss of health. It’s not very smart to play hard to get when your aim is to grow the desire in your relationship. Your actions don’t have to be intricate or overly mushy. A touch on the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek, either one can be enough to grow your relationship’s intensity.
Being turned on by your partner. Those little touches of love can don’t only boost your emotional connection to your partner, but also feed the sexual fires within. The people who responded with the most intense love for their partners said that they felt their bodies responding when their partner touched them. This doesn’t mean full-blown wild sex has to follow from that touch on the cheek. Nevertheless, that warm feeling, that tingling sensation from your partner’s touch is enough to keep the fire inside banked until the time is right for making love.
Making love counts. I know you aren’t surprised to read that making love is a positive expression of a love’s intensity. People in love are more likely to have sex with each other on a regular basis (no surprise). Here is the slippery part; the studies showed that part of the reason for the positive connection between sex and love is that people who are happiest in their relationships both love their partners more and have sex more frequently. It makes sense, but how often do we consider that to be somewhat chicken and egg question? Whatever the cause, the point is that making love builds and sustains feelings of love, and even happiness, which last.
Happier feelings. People who feel happier about life also have stronger feelings of love toward their partners. I don’t know if people who are in love feel happier or vice versa. The finding was more applicable to women than men. However, research indicates that if you’re experiencing personal distress, this can spill over into your relationship and it can suffer accordingly. Likewise, if your love relationship is in trouble, your personal happiness generally suffers too. Either way, it’s important for you to seek help from a coach or therapist before these negatives seriously affect your mental health.
If you’re experiencing
personal distress, this can spill
over into your relationship
and it can suffer accordingly.
Wanting to know where your partner is. Being powerfully in love, for most men, is associated with wanting to know your partner’s whereabouts. This component of intense love for men may seem a bit like stalking. But to put a positive spin on it, if you want to know where your partner is, it reflects the fact that your partner isn’t very far from your thoughts. Keep in mind the earlier post about assuming positive intent. If he didn’t love you, he simply wouldn’t care.
Enthusiastically thinking about your partner. Being slightly obsessed with your partner, as it turns out, is positively related to intense love, at least for women. In the studies, the women most in love didn’t particularly care about knowing their partner’s whereabouts like the guys did. However, they were more likely to engage in obsessive thinking about their partner in general. One is a male trait, the other female; remember, assume positive intent when you are deeply in love.
Having big passions. If you approach your life with zest and strong emotion, generally you carry these intense feelings over into your love life as well. If you want your relationship to have passion, put that emotional energy to work in your hobbies, interests, and even your politics. Your brain’s reward centers respond similarly to love as it does to getting excited about daily interests. For most men, getting all “fired up” in these areas transforms into firing up the feelings you have toward your partner. Did you hear that, ladies? Support his enthusiasm for outside activities.
I admit, the prescription for keeping love alive in your closest relationship is a complicated one. Yet these 12 factors—when you consider them as a whole—indicate that not only can long-term couples get along with each other, they can maintain their passion for decades. Close relationships are the cornerstone of our sense of identity and are central to our feelings of contentment. I am sure you have heard that your relationship can even benefit your health. The relationship conflict that can ensue has been shown in research on marital problems and obesity.
By changing your thoughts and your behavior about your relationship, you can keep it fresh and dynamic for years. And who doesn’t want that? I work with clients on these and a host of other issues. If you would like to discuss any of this blog, drop me a note at [email protected] I would love to hear your thoughts.
SPEAK WITH A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.