Romantic comedies, fairy tales, and romantic fiction leave many people expecting that, once they find their prince or princess, love will last forever. Marriage counselors, researchers, and long-married couples are increasingly fighting against this idea, arguing that it contributes to unreasonable expectations and dashed hopes.
But the idea that love is simply a matter of finding the right person and then working on problems as they occur lingers. In her new book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson attacks this idea as one that contributes to chronic unhappiness.
Love As Moments
Many people are familiar with research indicating that romantic passion tends to die down after a few years, but Fredrickson takes this research a step further, arguing that love occurs in moments, not as a single choice that is sustained over time. She calls these moments “micro-moments of positivity resonance.”
While the term might not sound very romantic, Fredrickson’s research provides valuable clues for making love last. For Fredrickson, these micro-moments are characterized by a rush of positive feelings during positive interactions with others. A long-term loving partnership, then, could be little more than a large collection of happy moments sustained over a period of years.
Love and the Brain
Researchers are increasingly interested in the effects love has on the brain. They’ve found, for example, that good listeners tend to mirror the brain activity of speakers, which means that if you’re listening to your partner, you may end up feeling similar feelings.
Maintaining Long-Term Love
Fredrickson’s research might undermine the idea of a choice made once and sustained over a lifetime, but Fredrickson offers several helpful tips for keeping love going. She points out, for example, that people who engage in Buddhist loving-kindness meditation—a practice geared toward sustaining positive feelings and empathy—are better able to empathize and may be better at anticipating their partners’ needs. If love is a micro-moment, daily choices matter much more, and a simple act of kindness or a favor for your spouse may be the key for sustaining another day of love.
Couples who want to use Fredrickson’s research to increase closeness and commitment can take several steps, including:
- Spending time focused on one another each day. The average couple spends only 150 waking minutes in each other’s presence each day, and spends less than 30 minutes on quality time. This doesn’t leave much opportunity for micro-moments of love.
- Cultivating positive feelings about your partner by thinking warmly about him or her, meditating, or focusing on his or her strengths.
- Making eye contact, which is a key for maintaining connection. Mirroring your partner’s feelings through body language and active listening can also help increase positivity, warmth, and feelings of love.
- Doing small favors for your partner, such as bringing home a favorite meal or stopping to get the dry cleaning, every day. These acts increase positive feelings and decrease stress.
- Creating moments of positivity with people other than your spouse. Fredrickson argues that people who have a lot of micro-moments of positivity during the day experience more feelings of love. Feeling hopeful and happy in your life will also make you easier to be around and decrease the likelihood of stress encroaching on your marriage.
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