4 Science-Backed Tips To Keeping Long-Term Love Alive

The Challenge: Romantic relationships can lose their luster with time.
The Science: But not always! Science shows how a couple of key elements can keep long-term love alive.
The Solution: Follow these 4 tips to keep your relationship thriving!

Many people believe that, over time, the quality of their relationship will inevitably decline, that their chemistry will turn to complacency and that their initial throngs of passion cannot survive the test of time.

Well, the good news is that they are wrong! A recent study by Daniel O’Leary and colleagues at Stony Brook University suggests that a large percentage of couples stay intensely in love even after a decade of marriage. Their findings reveal some fascinating tips on how to keep intense love alive.

O’Leary and his team surveyed a nationally representative sample of 274 couples that had been married for ten years or more. When they first collected the data, the researchers were actually surprised by the large percentage of people who claimed to still be intensely in love. The couples answered the question “How in love are you with your partner?” on a scale of 1 to 7 from “not at all in love” to “very intensely in love.” To the researchers’ surprise, the most frequent response was “very intensely in love” for both men and women. Forty-six percent of women and 49 percent of men reported being “very intensely in love,” according to the research report, which was published in The Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Tip # 1 Physical Affection & Sex

What was the top key to intense love over the long term? Not surprisingly, the list was topped by physically affectionate behaviors such as hugging and kissing. The survey couldn’t determine cause and effect, but oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle hormone,” flows freely through our bodies when we receive hugs or make love. We then feel closer to our partner and long-term bonding ensues. Research shows that social connection is a fundamental human need and essential for our physical and mental well-being. Affection is such an important element of love that the couples in the study who did not report any physical affection also reported a loveless relationship.

Frequency of sex was also strongly associated with intensity in love, but it was not always a requirement: 25 percent of those who had not had sex in the last month still reported being intensely in love.

Physical affection is so powerful that, even if a relationship doesn’t always seem perfect (and, let’s face it, what relationship always does?), it may help make up for the negatives. Certain couples, for example, reported low marital satisfaction due, presumably, to some of the common challenges couples face (e.g., differences in parenting styles, financial stress, divisions of responsibility, and personality differences). However, if their levels of physical affection remained high, the couple still reported intense love – suggesting that physical affection has a protective impact on the quality of the relationship. Hug, people, make love, kiss and cuddle!

Tip #2 Focusing on the Positive

Daydreaming positively about one’s partner is another common element of couples intensely in love, according to the findings. When people see each other every day, they can sometimes take each other for granted and stop noticing the characteristics they used to appreciate about their mate. However, a little awareness and gratitude may go a long way in countering this tendency. When we get to know someone well, we naturally learn about both their strengths and their weaknesses, but it is really up to us whether we choose to focus on one side or the other. By focusing on what we appreciate and admire in our partner and being grateful for the value and gifts that our partner brings into our lives, we cannot but think positively and may feel more intense love as a consequence.

Tip #3 Shared Experiences

Love grows through shared experiences. Couples intensely in love reported participating in novel, engaging, and challenging activities together. Some of the greatest moments of intimacy in a relationship come from the simple joys of cooking or exercising together, exchanging intellectual ideas over common readings, learning a new and challenging skill like skiing, sharing spirituality by attending church, praying, or meditating, and going on travel adventures. That shared experience may create a shared thread of life experiences and memories.

Tip # 4 Personal Happiness

The study findings suggest that taking care of your own happiness is important for the health and well-being of your relationship. Personal happiness was associated with the intensity of love, especially for women. In other words, one may think that tending to one’s own well-being through a night out with friends or time at the gym is selfish, but taking responsibility for one’s own happiness has the potential to drastically improve the quality of our relationship. Of course, being intensely in love may also be contributing to the happiness observed.

In sum, sharing affection, thinking positively and with gratitude about our partner’s qualities, engaging in shared activities, and being happy independently of the relationship may all be important features of an intensely loving relationship.

Emma Seppälä
EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, Ph.D. is the author of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success and Science Director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. She also teaches at Yale University and consults with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She founded Fulfillment Daily and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today.
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