Falling in love is a natural human phenomenon. People do not have to actively exert effort in order to become attracted to someone and fall in love with them. Thanks to our biology, we are preprogrammed to desire close knit relationships. For most people, this desire is fulfilled by forming intimate relationships with other human beings.
Falling in love is relatively effortless. Falling in love is not the problem. Staying in love, however, can become a problem. The American Psychological Association reports that 40-50% of married couples end in divorce.1 Nearly half of all married and once-in-love couples fall out of love so much so that they call an end to their marriage. It is easy to have a cynical outlook on love when the statistics are so unfavorable. It is understandable why one would question the institution of marriage and whether it is even possible to stay in love. Fortunately, research suggests that it is.
Social neuroscientist and relationship expert Bianca Acevedo says that it is possible to stay in love even after decades of marriage. Using fMRI machines, Acevedo and her team scanned the brains of ten women and seven men who were married for an average of 21.4 years. While mapping and watching their brains through the fMRI scanner, the researchers showed the subjects images of several different people. Of the several photos shown to each individual, one was a photo of the subject’s long-term significant other. Another photo was of a close, long-term friend. The next photo was an image of an individual for whom the subject was not familiar. 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.2 Acevedo’s research suggests that there is scientific evidence to prove that staying in love is not impossible.
Acevedo’s research also suggests that the brain pattern which represents love is different in couples who have been in a long-term relationship versus couples who have just fallen in love.
When long-term couples’ brain activity was examined, the images of their partner also activated brain systems associated with attachment and pair-bonding. Short-term couples’ brain activity only activated regions for love and attraction. This difference in brain activity takes place because long-term relationships are far less anxiety-inducing given the amount of stability and security that most long-term relationships provide. Acevedo’s results also indicate 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? Relationship expert John Gottman and his wife, Julie Gottman have conducted research over the years in order to pinpoint why couples fall out of love, and more importantly how couples can stay in love. Gottman compiles his research into a list of seven items. For ensuring long-lasting relationships, Gottman occurs seven pieces of advice.
1) Enhance Your Love Map
Gottman notes that it is important to “enhance your love map,” when you are in a relationship with someone. When an individual is in a relationship, they should expand their realm of knowledge to include all relevant information to their partner. One should know about their partner’s likes and dislikes, preferences, life goals, feelings, and experiences. Increasing one’s love map allows individuals in a relationship to show their partner that they are taking an interest in their partner’s life beyond the relationship.3
2) Nurture Fondness and Admiration
Support, nurture, and admiration are essential to a long-lasting and happy relationships. Even when, “grappling with each other’s flaws” it is important to recognize and convey to a partner that they are worthy of honor and respect. This outward expression of admiration reassures a partner that they are loved, and it can help keep a marriage from deteriorating.3
3) Turn Toward Each Other (Literally)
Gottman notes that many individuals in relationships take one another for granted. The individuals begin ignoring their partners and reject their ideas without giving them a fair chance. This is why Gottman stresses the importance of listening to your partner and turning toward each other during conversation. When an individual turns to their partner during conversation, they are giving their partner the affection, attention, and support that a partner-in-love deserves.3
4) Let Your Partner Influence You
Partners should share control over decisions. Gottman notes that the most satisfied and stable relationships are those that include both partners’ involvement in decision-making. When both partners have a position in decision-making processes, the partners are better able to feel like equals in the relationship. It is important to leave egos behind in relationships.3
5) Solve Your Solvable Problems
Gottman notes that healthy arguments exist. When a problem arises, it is important to go through a specific process in order to resolve the conflict properly. Start the conversation by refraining from any criticism. Instead, partners should openly discuss their concerns or comments in a way that does not upset the other. Partners should not feel attacked and demonized. Instead, use “I” statements. Using “I” statements prevent arguments from turning into blame games. It is also important to accept a partner’s faults and be willing to compromise. These tactics will help couples solve problems that arise.3
6) Overcome Gridlock
Gridlock happens when an argument makes an individual in a relationship feel rejected by their partner. When an argument does not reach a resolution, this can frustrate the individuals involved. Gottman notes that the most important thing to ask a partner during gridlock is “what are your dreams?” Many times the conflicts have an underlying problem or theme, particularly about the future or the couple’s future together. Being able to overcome this gridlock by valuing and sharing each other’s dreams can help lead to happier relationship.3
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 less likely 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.3
It is possible to fall in love and to stay in love. If you follow the seven principles compiled by Gottman, long-lasting love can be attainable. The reason that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce is that individuals are not willing to actively fix their behavior in their relationships. If one is willing to take a step back and analyze their behavior, they may be able to salvage their relationship before it hits a gridlock.
- “Marriage and Divorce.” American Psychological Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May. 2017.
- “Staying in Love by Staying out of Fantasy.” PsychAlive Psychology for Everyday Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May. 2017.
- Gottman, John M. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. 2000.
Last Updated: 6 June 2017.