Love Supreme: Making Love Last

Love & Successful Relationships

Sustaining a long-lasting, intimate relationship doesn’t happen by accident…

It’s no secret that relationships are difficult. There are so many moving pieces: busy schedules, the sex, her friends, his buddies, and the in-laws
– it’s no wonder that divorce is rampant.

The staggering rate of break-ups has left us all with numerous questions. Does sex die in a long-term relationship? Is it possible to remain desirable over time? Can you maintain intimacy, passion and interest? Luckily, scientists have been tying to crack the keys to a successful relationship for decades. Here’s what they’ve found.

1  Attraction

Obvious, yes, but often overlooked based on assumptions of shallowness. Is attractiveness everything? Of course not. Is it an important foundation? Absolutely. When you break it down, finding somebody attractive is an evolved signal that they might make a suitable partner.

It follows, then, that relationships are more successful when both partners are attracted to each other. The Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology reports that men who rated their wives “highly attractive” were more satisfied with their relationships over four years of marriage.

This indicates that men tend to be happier in relationships when they are found attractive, and when their partners are attractive. Being physically attracted to someone should be the first step in approaching a relationship and leads to better outcomes than waiting for attraction to foster over time. That said physical attractiveness, as we’ll discuss, is just one small piece of the much larger puzzle that is a healthy relationship. Of course the lesson here is: stay fit! Make an effort to make yourself attractive to your partner as it pays big dividends.

Studies show that perceived commitment to a relationship improves relationship satisfaction and even sexual satisfaction for both parties

2 Touch

Another obvious one, right? We are not talking about sex here, but rather about communicative and expressive touch – a hand on the back of the neck, stroking an arm, idly toying with a hand. All of these are powerful signals that promote closeness and compassion.

In an evolutionary review, Jennifer Goetz writes that compassion promotes soothing and is integral in forming strong cooperative bonds between people. Both of these processes are crucial in any intimate relationship.

3 Touch (again)

OK, now we are talking about sex. Not just sex, but mutually satisfactory and frequent sex. A 2013 study found that sexual satisfaction predicted relationship satisfaction. Unsurprising, right? Crucially, this study found that sexual compatibility was key for sexual and relationship satisfaction. This means communicating with your partner about their needs, being attentive and working together.

Research also shows that you should always spoon afterwards, too. Post-sex affection promotes both sexual and relationship satisfaction, so don’t just roll over and go to sleep. Have a cuddle and a chat and talk about what worked and you’ll both be happier in the long run.

4 Plant your flag

If you’re in a relationship, you need to be all the way in. This means committing and letting your commitment be known. This is something that men can be poor at, but research shows that manning up and openly committing to relationships is beneficial for both parties.

Studies show that perceived commitment to a relationship improves relationship satisfaction and even sexual satisfaction for both parties. This isn’t to suggest that you impulsively blurt out, “I love you”, or throw caution to the wind and propose on the spot. Carefully consider how you feel about your relationship and think about your future.

If you feel good about it, let your partner know. You can also do this non-verbally with body language, maintaining physical closeness, and by flashing a genuine smile every now and then for no reason other than to show that you’re happy where you are.

A hand on the back of the neck, stroking an arm, idly toying with a hand. All of these are powerful signals that promote closeness and compassion

5 Find your common ground

Overwhelmingly statistics show that partners tend to be more alike than they are different: in intelligence, attitudes, political leanings and in many other ways. Relationships can be built on common ground, but this doesn’t mean you should break up with your partner because she doesn’t get your FIFA obsession. And you shouldn’t be relying on shared interests to get you through. Common values are more important. According to Psychology Today, this means you should share common core beliefs and relationship objectives.

6 Stop fighting to win

No relationship is perfect and there are guaranteed to be fights. From deciding whose turn it is to take out the rubbish to financial decision-making, disagreements are going to creep into the relationship and need to be resolved.

According to relationship researchers, the key to keeping both people happy is dropping the attitude that an argument is something to be won. If you’re disagreeing, your intention should be to reach a resolution, not to get one over your partner. This requires controlling your emotions and trying to avoid inflammatory language. Keep the temperature low.

Also, try and recognise the triggers of common arguments before they pop up. If you see a fight brewing, stop, take a breather and approach the issue proactively, not reactively.

7 Stop bottling up

Resentment will kill the intimacy of any relationship. In a 2012 study, scientists found that people who suppressed emotion over sacrifices they had made (like giving up something they wanted to do for the sake of their partner) suffered reduced relationship quality and increased thoughts about breaking up.

Importantly, the authors found that the majority of these negative effects didn’t occur when people were authentic about the sacrifices they were making. If your relationship requires you to make sacrifices you feel are unreasonable and that force you to be inauthentic, you need to communicate that to your partner or your entire relationship may suffer.

8 Celebrate your obstacles

It can be tempting to sweep past fights and arguments under the rug and to pretend everything is rosy all the time, but this simply is not the case in most relationships. Not only is this disingenuous, it can also be harmful for couples. John Gottman, author of Why Marriages Succeed Or Fail, has found that relationships can gain strength from fights and obstacles that have occurred along the way. By remembering difficulties that have been overcome, couples can gain perspective on minor disagreements as well as increasing their belief in the relationship and themselves.

An entire industry exists around dating and courtship: take advantage of it and seek out a little adventure

9 Novelty

Fight boredom as much as possible. It is so easy to become comfortable in the routine of a relationship, but this kind of settling can be disastrous. One study has even found that boredom in a relationship can predict dissatisfaction nine years down the road.

Most relationships will know the gradual comedown from the initial chemical rush of infatuation. This is not only normal, but for the most part inevitable. As dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain decrease, relationship excitement will also subside giving way to the less exhilarating chemical oxytocin.

It is not impossible to recapture the charge of new romance, however. Novelty increases dopamine levels and, according to Helen Fisher, a researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, “lowers the threshold for your ability to feel romantic love”.

The excitement of a new experience can simulate that of falling in love
all over again. Research has actually shown that couples who engage in exciting experiences together report greater relationship satisfaction and higher levels of romance. An entire industry exists around dating and courtship: take advantage of it and seek out a little adventure.

10 Communicate

Another no-brainer but a recurrent theme in the previous points, communication is essential in any successful relationship. Humans
evolved language for a reason; to communicate goals and intentions,
and to share in feelings, beliefs and ideas. Communication is the foundation on which all human relationships are built, let alone romantic partnerships.

Setting aside the numerous studies observing the relationship between communication and relationship health, communication plays a massive role in the quality of time couples spend together; sharing stories about the annoying guy at work who never refills the printer, discussing finances, planning a trip and yes, fighting. All aspects of a relationship will benefit from communication, so shut up and start talking already. ML

James Sherlock is a PhD Candidate,
School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Australia