“True love,” “The One,” and “Happily Ever After” are complex things. I tend to think that the chances of two people finding each other, falling in love, and staying in love until “death due them part” is simply a miracle. Luckily, even love has a scientific basis.
Here are some science-based tips that can help you win at love… and marriage.
1. Pick the right game.
Marriage is not for everyone. Studies have shown that approximately 40% of couples married 10 years or more report being happily in- love with their spouse. The remaining 60% are not in-love, with 20% reporting unhappiness in their marriage. Also, about 50% of individuals live content single lives.
Even animals show diversity in pair-bonding strategies. Indeed, our biology plays a significant role in our predisposition for attachment including the ability to sustain feelings of romantic love for a partner over time. These diverse biological systems provide explanations for why some people can remain in-love with the same person for a lifetime, while others tend to quickly lose interest in one partner or need a series (or several) partners to keep the flame of passion alive.
The take-home message is that to win at love, it’s important to know yourself. Marriage (or long-term monogamy) is not for everyone. It requires motivation, time, energy, sacrifice, and willingness to deeply care for another person. Building a family only amplifies the investment (and also joy and reward) associated with marriage and commitment.
Pick the right partner.
To build a lasting relationship, it’s helpful to pair up with a partner whose relationship goals are aligned with your own. If you and your partner have the same vision for what you want in a relationship, you will both be working in the same direction. Having similar attitudes, values, and preferences also helps. This will provide a solid foundation for your relationship.
While similarities are helpful, it’s also important to be dissimilar in some ways so that you can experience the excitement of learning new things and expanding your sense of self. This will keep novelty alive, diminish boredom, and fan the flames of love. Variety is the spice of life.
2. Some traits are universally valued by both men and women.
Warmth, expressiveness, kindness, consideration, dependability, loyalty, and honesty are traits that are universally valued by both women and men. Also, competence, humor, intelligence, and good social skills. This is a long list, so keep it in mind. Be mindful about these characteristics. Accentuate your positive ones and work on the weaker ones. Also, observe these in your dating partners.
Attraction is complicated. Although it is fueled by novelty it also grows out of daily interactions and familiarity. Our brains are mini-supercomputers that work at lightning-speed to calculate what will happen next to optimize our behavior for survival and to help us attain our desired goals. Thus, although our neurons fire when we perceive something novel, they also fire when something is familiar and predictable. If we can size up our potential love matches and know what to expect from them, we will feel more calm, secure, and less anxious.
However, romantic love is closely intertwined with our brain’s dopamine-reward system, which lights up when we are faced with a challenge, want something, or see something new.
To win at love, keep things steady and stable, but with some intermittent bouts of fun, spice and novelty. Give it a try and see how it works.
4. Attraction is essential.
Research shows that just viewing the face of someone you are in-love with, or find attractive, is enough to produce a strong reward signal in dopamine-rich areas of the brain. These same brain reward activations are shown in new-love, long-term love, and in association with sustained feelings of romantic love in newlyweds.
However, attraction goes beyond physical beauty. In-love individuals often rate their partners as highly attractive compared to objective raters. What is it that fuels this attraction? In my research, many couples report that everyday interactions with their partners fuel their love. For example, when a spouse provides advice, support, cooks a nice meal, rocks the baby to sleep, or loads the dishwasher they report falling deeper in-love.
many of us like surprises such as flowers, chocolates, or a night out dancing. Keep
all of these things in your back pocket, and use them sporadically, and
unpredictably, to keep love alive in your relationship.
What gets you together, might not keep you together.
The forces of lust and attraction often operate below our awareness. Therefore, what we find irresistible, disarming, and unforgettable in the beginning of a relationship, may not be what keeps us together in the long run. Mother Nature is not sadistic, nor is she trying to ruin our lives, self-esteem and hope for love by striking her arrow at what seems like the ‘wrong” person. Some of the qualities that we find irresistible in our partners, might have a very good purpose.
For example, making babies with genetic diversity or having a partner that complements our weaknesses— such as savviness for math, organization skills, or sense of style. However, qualities that are too extreme may be hard to live with long-term. So, try to keep a balance between what you find disarmingly attractive and what you can realistically endure for the long-haul.
What keeps happy and healthy relationships?
In then end, what makes for loving and lasing relationships is not a surprise. Researchers have been studying many of these topics for decades. Here are some of the essentials of happy and lasting relationships.
- Good communication
- Willingness to forgive and sacrifice
- Satisfying sex
- Seeing the best in your partner