Love. Happy Love. We all want it. But how do we get it? From fairytales to films, the way love is popularly portrayed is that it just happens. You meet Prince Charming, fall deeply in love, and live happily ever after. But no one ever tells you what it takes to be happy together, to live happily ever after, after the wedding day.
Positive psychology research shows that healthy habits are what lead to long-term love. In particular, focusing on what is going right in your relationship and working to build more of it, rather than dwelling on what’s wrong. Four areas that are especially important to cultivate thriving romantic relationships are passion, positive emotions, savouring, and strengths. Let’s look at each step one at a time.
While there’s no magical elixir for the perfect relationship, following these evidence-based tips will make it more likely you can help create your own happily ever after.
4 Steps to The Most Satisfying Long-Term Love
1. Promoting a Healthy Passion
While we desire passion in a relationship, it has to be the right kind of passion. Harmonious, or healthy, passion is where we are able to make conscious choices, whereas the opposite—obsessive passion—is where we feel swept away by uncontrollable urges.
This unhealthy type of passion is heralded everywhere, from music to merchandising, with song lyrics like “I can’t live without you” and fragrances like Obsession. Not surprisingly, it’s what many of us crave and expect in a relationship. While it may feel good in the moment, research shows obsessive passion can be as damaging to your relationship as having no passion at all. In fact, women are less sexually satisfied in relationships with men who are obsessively passionate toward them. They also tend to lose their sense of self.
One way to maintain your identity and cultivate a healthy passion is to think back to times before your relationship. What did you enjoy doing? Was it your weekly book club? Weekend yoga class? Remember to continue your favourite activities and hobbies, and be comfortable doing so without your partner. Also, listen to any concerns from your friends who, research shows, tend to see red flags of obsessive passion before you might.
2. Prioritizing Positive Emotions
Positivity, like passion, is another element associated with flourishing relationships. However, like happily ever after, we can’t expect positive emotions to naturally happen, and at the frequency they may have in the beginning of our relationship. Instead, we have to actively, and consistently cultivate them.
The best way to nurture positive emotions is to prioritize positivity, making choices about how you will structure your day. In other words, instead of focusing on “I must be happy,” specifically think about activities and interests that evoke joyful feelings, both individually and as a couple, and prioritize them when planning your day. Is it tackling the NYT crossword puzzle? Getting together with friends? Hiking with your partner? Remember to engage in solo activities as well as shared ones with your significant other.
3. Mindfully Savouring Experiences Together
In our fast-paced culture, we tend to race through the day. However, in order to reap the benefits of positivity we have to slow down and savour the good times. As humans, our minds naturally tend to settle on problems, and let good things go unnoticed.If we can pause and truly savour small positive moments with our partner, rather than waiting for the big things—like that long-awaited trip to Paris—we will improve our happiness in the moment. Over time, these moments add up.
One great way to savour is to create a positive relationship portfolio. It can be a physical portfolio or an electronic file where you store special items or mementos that are important to you. Maybe it’s a beautiful letter from your spouse, your wedding picture, or a keepsake from your first date. Spend 15 minutes every day for a week savouring these things together, talking about the warm memories they evoke.
4. Seeking Out Strengths in One Another
Many times in relationships we fall into the habit of focusing on small annoyances or on what we feel is lacking. We may even compare and contrast our relationship with others. Stop staring at social media pictures of those perfectly coiffed couples smiling on luxurious vacations. Instead, find and feed the good in yourself and your partner to help build a stronger and more authentic bond. One way to do that is to focus on strengths.
Positive psychology researchers have identified 24 strengths that have been valued across time and cultures, including kindness, creativity, leadership, and love of learning. We all have strengths and have them in varying degrees. Discover your top five strengths, commonly referred to as your “signature strengths” by taking the free VIA Survey of Character Strengths. Now put them into action by planning a strengths date: an outing that complements one of your top strengths and one of your partner’s. For example, if zest is your top strength and your partner has love of learning, rent Segways to tour the historical part of your city. After the date, your sense of adventure will be sated and your partner’s intellectual thirst quenched. Take turns planning these dates and watch your happiness quotient rise.
Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP is co-author of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. She has a Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree from the University of Pennsylvania.