Love feels magical and biological—something that happens to us, something beyond our control.
Research shows, however, that love is better thought of as behavioral—or even transactional. Yes, hormones play a role, but much more important is how we act with the object of our affection. We do certain things, and those actions foster the emotions we associate with being in love. According to researcher Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0, we create our feelings of love, day after day.
Or we don’t create them, and love fades.
So what actions lead to love? Here are three, all based on fostering vulnerability. Yes, vulnerability can be uncomfortable because it involves, by definition, emotional exposure, uncertainty, and risk. But vulnerability allows trust and intimacy to develop and deepen, creating strong feelings of connection and love.
Action #1: Take a risk together.
Researchers think we tend to unconsciously conflate the high arousal induced by doing something risky with the high arousal of intense attraction because the two states feel similar. This creates a similar biochemistry and physiology as when we are first falling in love.
On your next outing, go straight for that adrenaline rush by doing something risky. Venture to a never-visited location that feels a little daunting. Hit a karaoke bar, and actually sing this time. Or try a new sport, one where you risk feeling silly or uncoordinated.
Action #2: Get naked (emotionally).
What can you reveal to your partner that he or she doesn’t already know about you? We come to like people more when we engage in escalating, gradual back-and-forth “personal self-disclosure.” So ask your date intimate questions to which you aren’t sure of the answer.
Researchers have long been able to create profound feelings of being in love through self-disclosure—even between strangers. Check out the 36 questions that Arthur Aron and his colleagues have used to do this in the lab. And don’t forget: How you respond when your partner is making him or herself vulnerable is also important. (Hint: turn off your phone and pay attention.)
Action #3: Gaze into each other’s eyes.
Directly, for four full minutes. Set a timer. Don’t talk. Breathe. Relax.
This technique has been widely cited as a part of the experiment by Aron and colleagues—and seems like a very solid tactic for creating feelings of intimacy and love. Stanford researcher Fred Luskin asks people do this in his workshops, and it definitely creates strong feelings of vulnerability. Which, you should remember, is good. The exposure is terrifying, but that is just what we are after here.
Join the Discussion: What other ideas do you have for making yourself vulnerable with your partner? Leave a comment and be entered to WIN Linda Carroll’s Love Cycles, my favorite relationship book.