How do you get to crazy love — or get crazy love back when it's gone away? Forget the silly relationship books, let's look at the real science and get some answers.
Here are 5 shortcuts to bonding deeply with a romantic partner:
1. No more boring date nights
No more dull dinners telling the same stories and hoping you have fun.
"Seduction involves a degree of surprise, which is generally the first thing that disappears after you've been in a relationship, and why there's no more seducing that goes on. Everything is familiar and you're no longer surprised by the other person."
Couples don't need more "pleasant" activities — you need more exciting activities to make sure you're feeling the "butterflies" around each other. Researchers did a 10-week study comparing couples that engaged in "pleasant" activities vs. "exciting" activities. Pleasant lost.
"Those who had undertaken the "exciting" date nights showed a significantly greater increase in marital satisfaction than the "pleasant" date night group…"
Why would doing anything exciting have such a big effect on a relationship?
Because research shows we're lousy about realizing where our feelings are coming from.
Excitement from any source will be associated with the person you're with, even if they're not the cause of it.
When I spoke to the top researcher of romantic love, Arthur Aron, he said the same thing:
"After a while, things are sort of settled and there isn't much excitement, so what can you do? Do things that are exciting that you associate with your partner. Reinvigorate that excitement and the main way to make them associated with the partner is to do them with your partner."
(To learn the 4 most common relationship problems — and how to fix them — click here.)
Okay, no more dull dinners. You're taking tango lessons or going skydiving. Awesome. So how do you fix the nagging little problems in your relationship to take it to the next level? That's easy. Don't.
2. Don't reduce the negative. Increase the positive.
We spend a lot of time trying to fix things in our relationships. Turns out we've got it backwards. Unless they're critical, don't focus on reducing the negatives. Couples thrive when they increase the positive things.
"…an interesting new body of research suggests that how we support people during good times, more than bad times, affects the quality of a relationship."
Research shows trying to change people doesn't work:
"…when participants focused their relationship improvement attempts on changing the partner, individuals reported more negative improvement strategies, lower improvement success, and, in turn, more negative relationship evaluations… results suggest that targeting the partner may do more harm than good despite that relationship evaluations pivot on whether the partner produces change."
John Gottman, the #1 guy on making relationships work, says 69 percent of a couple's problems are perpetual. These problems don't go away yet many couples keep arguing about them year after year.
"Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other's mind — but it can't be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage."
So ignore the bad. Increase the good stuff.
(To learn the four things that kill relationships, click here.)
So you're not trying to fix what's broken, you're doubling down on the things that make you two happy. What else do you need to do?
3. Get to know them. Really get to know them.
Couples who communicate are 62 percent more likely to describe their relationship as happy.
"In studies of marriages of various lengths, couples with a high degree of intimacy between the husband and wife — that is, couples who shared their innermost thoughts — were 62 percent more likely to describe their marriage as happy." —Pallen 2001
Emotional, personal information exchange promotes powerful feelings of connection. Asking and answering the right questions can create a lifelong bond in just one hour.
Via Sam Gosling's book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You:
"Arthur Aron, a psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is interested in how people form romantic relationships, and he's come up with an ingenious way of taking men and women who have never met before and making them feel close to one another. Given that he has just an hour or so to create the intimacy levels that typically take weeks, months, or years to form, he accelerated the getting-to-know-you process through a set of thirty-six questions crafted to take the participants rapidly from level one in McAdams's system to level two."
No time for tons of questions? Share the best event of your day and have your partner share the best event of their day. And celebrate their successes. It works.
Here's what Arthur told me in our interview:
"Celebrating your partner's successes turns out to be pretty important. When things go badly and you provide support, it doesn't make the relationship good, but it keeps it from getting bad. Whereas if things are going okay and your partner has something good happen and you celebrate it sincerely, you're doing something that can make a relationship even better."
And look into their eyes. It can make people fall in love. Seriously:
"In two studies, subjects induced to exchange mutual unbroken gaze for 2 minutes with a stranger of the opposite sex reported increased feelings of passionate love for each other."
(For that list of questions that made people bond deeply in just an hour, click here.)
So you're doing exciting stuff, focusing on the good things and really getting to know each other. What else should you spend time talking about?
4. Reminisce about the times you laughed
You don't need to be together very long to do this. What made you two crack up on those initial dates? Bring it up and have another laugh about it:
"…couples who reminisced about events involving shared laugher reported higher relationship satisfaction at the post-manipulation satisfaction assessment as compared to couples in the three control conditions. The effect was not attributed to positive mood induction as mood scores across groups were similar."
And here's a bonus: More laughing means less fighting.
"When both partners in a relationship thought the other had a good sense of humor, 67 percent less conflict was reported than in couples where neither thought the other had a good sense of humor." —De Koning and Weiss 2002
The other thing to emphasize when reminiscing? Similarity. The single strongest predictor of marital well-being? Feeling the two of you are similar.
Believe it or not, even having similar fighting styles was a good thing. It was related to double-digit drops in conflict and a double-digit increase in satisfaction.
"While people may employ many different conflict resolution strategies in a relationship, when both partners use the same strategy they experience 12 percent less conflict and are 31 percent more likely to report their relationship is satisfying." —Pape 2001
Okay, so you two are laughing. What's the right perspective to take when you're out together?
5. Pretend you're on your first date again
On first dates we make an effort and effort draws people together:
"In a follow-up study the researchers told participants to make an effort with their partners and then their enjoyment of the social interaction improved in line with their predictions. This suggests we can all have more fun with our partners and friends if we make an effort."
Studies show pretending time with a romantic partner was a first date makes it more enjoyable:
"Across a series of studies, participants underestimated how good they would feel in situations that required them to put their best face forward… participants who were instructed to engage in self-presentation felt happier after interacting with their romantic partner than participants who were not given this instruction…"
We've learned a lot. Let's round it up and learn one more killer thing that can actually build a positive feedback loop in your relationship…
To bond more deeply with a romantic partner make sure to:
- Kill the boring dates. Do new exciting stuff. Dancing, suspenseful movies, learning new things together.
- Don't fix the negatives. Build on the positives. You can't fix most problems. Double down on what works well.
- Really get to know them. Use Arthur Aron's questions. And ask about the best part of their day, celebrate it, and share the high point of your day. Touch. Stare into their eyes.
- Reminisce about the times you laughed. Emphasize similarity.
- Pretend you're on your first date again. Make an effort. Put your best face forward.
Want to diagnose how well your relationship is working?
Listen to the story you and your partner tell others about your relationship. John Gottman said it's the #1 predictor of whether things are working.
Another trick is to hold their hand during stressful times and see how it makes you feel. Less stressed? Bingo.
The sad thing is that over time we often take the other person for granted. But you don't have to.
By expressing gratitude, research shows you can actually create a positive feedback loop in your relationship: "…gratitude contributes to a reciprocal process of relationship maintenance, whereby each partner's maintenance behaviors, perceptions of responsiveness, and feelings of gratitude feed back on and influence the other's behaviors, perceptions, and feelings."
If you've got something good together, being grateful can make it even better.
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