In his latest book, Love Illuminated, Daniel Jones concludes, after culling over thousands of essays written to his Modern Love Column in the New York Times, that what most people really want is a loving and permanent relationship.
Evidence for this is the over 13.5 million self-help books addressing relationships and the interest by so many couples in improving and sustaining their love.
Given the deluge of information offered, I have siphoned out four essential ingredients that can be found in satisfied, long-lasting marriages.
They may be obvious, basic to your marriage, hiding in plain sight, something you stopped doing or something you never tried. Consider them against the backdrop of your relationship.
Looking at Each Other
It is likely that when you first met your partner, you glanced into each other’s eyes as much as you could and in many aspects of your connection. In a culture that demands watching the road, watching the screen, the phone, the parallel chores or the kids, that mutual gaze becomes more difficult with the years.
It is worth re-setting.
- When couples look into each other’s eyes when they say hello or good-bye each day, when they are having that quick cup of coffee in the morning, when they are exchanging bags or kids on the soccer field, they affirm an intimate connection. After all, you don’t just gaze into everyone eyes.
- Michael Ellsberg, author of The Power of Eye Contact, suggests that when you make eye contact with another person, you in some sense give that person a glimpse of your emotional world.
- In terms of negative feelings, it is far more difficult to dismiss or verbally abuse a partner when you are looking at each other when speaking. The exposure to the other’s eyes seems to underscore the connection and mediate the way in which anger is expressed.
- Even if couples avert their eyes when arguing, those with a strong relationship often use eye-to-eye contact to restore the connection.
- When couples catch the eye of their partner in public to convey the message “ I love you,” “ Only two more hours to go,” or “ Thank God you are here” it affirms the bond between them.
- There may not be lots of time—but there is always time to look at each other.
Laughing with Each Other
- Laughter has been shown to have physical, psychological and interpersonal benefits. The couple that laughs together reduces stress, steps over “ the small stuff,” and feels more connected.
- Research suggests that sense of humor is found to be an attractive trait. In particular, women like men who make them laugh and men are attracted to women who “ get them.” Both women and men associate sense of humor with playfulness and the resilience to get past the rough times in life.
- Laughter is integral to intimacy because laughing means risking being emotionally touched by another.
- When partners can laugh at themselves and laugh off the other’s mistakes, the relationship is safe for authenticity and forgiveness.
- Since they say you can’t really love anybody with whom you never laugh, laughing each day is a boost to the love affair.
Letting it Go
There is no couple that does not argue, fight, disagree or wonder at times what planet the other has beamed in from. That said, the best of couples know when to let it go.
- They have learned that when people are in their angry “ reptilian brain” nothing good happens. One or both hits a pause button, takes the dog out, starts cooking—and they talk later.
- They have leaned that once they have made their point, the other needs time and space to process.
- They have learned that apologies come in different forms and different ways and that if it has to look a certain way—it will be missed.
- They have learned that in the hours, days and years of a relationship, the connection is more important than winning.
- They have learned give and take. They have learned when in doubt—“Let it go and assume the best of your partner.”
Letting the Other Know
At a recent wedding of a niece, the new groom shared a story. He said that when his friends asked why he was sure that his bride was the right one he said, “ I can probably live with a lot people, but I can’t live without her!”
Couples who have loving and sustaining relationships in someway let the other know– just that.
- They push beyond the tendency we all have to take the other for granted by affirming what still feels perfect and accepting what they have come to know as imperfect.
- They take responsibility for adding the unexpected in their lives—be it the vacation deal they find, the sexual overture they make or the recipe they try.
- They let the other know that they are friends and much more. They find a way to have the other feel desired even if that means stepping over fatigue, working around infirmity, or making time to be together.
- They are able to let the other know, “ I love you.”