Humans experience falling in love naturally. In other words, falling in love and feeling attracted to another person is not something that one has to work hard to accomplish. These systems of biological attraction and desire for close relationships are preprogrammed in our brains. Though falling in love is a wonderful, seemingly effortless experience, staying in love can be difficult. As the research shows 40-50% of the couples that are getting married in the United States are getting divorced. So with these odds against us, how can one stay in love? Is staying in love even possible? Research suggests that it is.
Bianca Acevedo and her colleagues say it’s possible to stay in love even after decades of marriage. Using fMRI machines, they scanned the brains of ten women and seven men who were married for an average of 21.4 years. While mapping and watching people’s brains through the fMRI scanner they showed the patients “images that included their romantic long-term partner (a highly familiar acquaintance); a close, long term friend; and a low familiar person.” The overall findings suggested that for individuals who claim to still be in love, really are in love. The same regions that lit up in the brain for people who were first falling in love, were also activated with people who had been in love for almost 50 years.
The only difference between the younger and older couples was that the long-term married couples’ brains also activated brain systems implicated in attachment and pair-bonding suggesting that their relationships were much more stable and less anxiety-inducing. These results also indicated higher rankings for the long-term romantic partners in the categories of: friendship, compassion, joy, pride, love, passion, and sex drive across the board.
So if one can stay in love, how can one achieve this? World experts John Gottman and his wife, Julie Gottman, are leading relationship psychologists who, after many years of research, have come up with some rewarding findings on how to make love last through years of marriage. They map out seven things that one can do to keep their love growing.
1) Enhance Your Love Map
- The Gottmans say that one needs to “enhance their love map” or, in other words, understand and show interest in how his or her partner is doing and how their world is changing. Knowing each other’s long-term goals and desires will help you both further understand each other.
2) Nurture Fondness and Admiration
- Support, nurture, and admiration are essential to having a long-lasting and happy relationship. Even when, “grappling with each other’s flaws” it is important to recognize and convey to your partner that you believe them to be worthy of honor and respect. This outward expression of admiration reassures your partner that you love them and can keep your marriage from deteriorating.
3) Turn Toward Each Other
- The Gottmans have seen that too often individuals ignore what their partner says, take them for granted, or reject their partner’s ideas. Listening to your partner, turning toward each other during conversation, giving each other attention, affection, and support are all very important in maintaining a long-term relationship.
4) Let Your Partner Influence You
- Through their research, the Gottmans say “the happiest, most stable marriages are those in which the husband treats his wife with respect and does not resist power-sharing and decision-making with her.” Women are on average better at respecting and honoring their husbands. Husbands need to make sure that they too are returning the favor.
5) Solve Your Solvable Problems
- The Gottmans also believe in something called healthy arguments. If there is a problem, they say that good manners are the way to go about solving it. Using a softened start-up, that is making sure that you are kindly approaching your partner about a problem, making “I” statements, learning to make and receive repair attempts when things are going wrong, pulling out of a downward cycle of negativity by asking for a break or apologizing, and soothing each other are all part of the compromise that needs to happen when in stressful situations.
6) Overcome Gridlock
- John Gottman says that if there is one thing that you can ask your partner, it should be “What are your dreams?” Many times when looking at the conflicts a couple is having, there is an underlying problem or theme particularly about the future or the couple’s future together that has yet to be discussed. Being able to overcome this gridlock by valuing and sharing each other’s dreams is a characteristic of happy marriages.
7) Create “Shared Meaning”
- All marriages should have an intentional sense of shared purpose together. Creating meaning and a culture full of traditions and customs for yourselves and your family makes conflict less intense and unlikely to lead to gridlock. Gottman and his wife have observed and analyzed couples in conversations of conflict, and they are convinced that it is the way couples fight- and not necessarily what they fight about- that will determine the quality of their marriage.
These amazing researchers developed these seven steps to help couples stay in love for many years so that they can enjoy living happy and healthy lives together.
1. Acevedo, B.P., Aron, A., Fisher, H.E., Brown, L.L. (2011) Neural correlates of long-term intense romantic love. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Advance Access. 1-15.
2. Gottman, Julie and John, M. (2011) How To Keep Love Going Strong: 7 principles on the road to happily ever after. YES! Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 June. 2013.
Last Updated 26 Sept 2013