6 Science-based Tips for Lifelong Love

Researchers point the way to happily-ever-after.

Posted Mar 21, 2016

Rita Watson photo
Source: Rita Watson photo

We know from research studies that love can happen in a split second and have the effect of cocaine. However, more than an arrow shot by Cupid, it is oxytocin that plays a key role in the love-bond.  And despite a society in which the divorce rate has for too long hovered at 50 percent, we still want to believe in happily-ever-after. As crocuses appear year in and year out despite an early frost, we can count on crocuses.  Can we count on life-long love?

Although oxytocin appears to be the secret to bonding, there are ways to generate oxytocin in a manner that has a positive effect on relationships.  Researchers have pointed the way to some of building blocks that keep relationships alive.

Generate oxytocin: Love-making and hugging are key ways to activate oxytocin. A research study published in “Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience” determined that the naturally occurring hormone oxytocin and love are intimately related. Often called the love drug, oxytocin plays a role in bonding, maternal instinct, enduring friendshipmarriage, and orgasms. (Algoe, 2013)

Express gratitude often:  According to a study published by the Greater Good Science Center, gratitude is the “glue” that blinds. Although it was a small study of 77 married heterosexual and monogamous couples, here are the findings discussed in "All You Need is Love, Gratitude, and Oxytocin." (Greater Good, Berkeley, 2012)

After an expression of “thank you” couples recorded and rated their feelings. Additionally four judges rated what they observed. Saliva was then tested for CD38 and it was found that “there is something about the genes that control our oxytocin system, which systematically predicts our ability to experience positive moments with someone close to us.”  Furthermore with expressed gratitude “participants reported that they felt more loving.”

Speak with respect to one another: Whether alone or in the company of others it is important to watch words and tone of voice.  At the University of Washington campus, researchers created a bed and breakfast retreat at their laboratory. They invited 130 newlyweds to spend a day there with the understanding that they would be observed. As a husband or wife made what researchers called “a bid” for connection, it was the spouse’s response that predicted success or failure in the marriage. A spouse who reacts with kindness might accept her husband’s bid, and if so, that will be the marriage with a predictor of success.

For example, a husband might make a bid to his wife to share the experience of looking at a bird that just came into his view.  How his wife responded played a crucial role in the relationship. If she reacted with kindness, she would have accepted her husband’s bid for connection.  On the other hand, she might have chosen to ignore him, or even retort with hostility, “You and those birds.”  Or it might have been a wife who made a bid to her husband and was ignored or rejected.The Love Lab 

Maintain positive illusions: From the research of Marcel Zentner, PhD, of the University of Geneva, we learn: "Men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind, and ideal for them -- in just about every way -- remain content with each other.” He also found that the couples with the greatest relationship satisfaction and the greatest intentions of staying together were the ones with the greatest congruence between their ideal partner's characteristics and their perceptions of their partner.

"People develop a rich profile of their ideal mate fairly early on in development," Zentner says. "And so we seek to find partners who fit that ideal." (Zentner, 2005)

Write and rewrite your love story: Robert Sternberg, Ph.D., while at Yale’s Department of Psychology, pointed out that a love relationship between two people follows a story, oftentimes a story we created as children. If we find that our stories do not turn out happily, he suggested rewriting them. Dr. Sternberg is currently Professor of Human Development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. 

Here is a twist on a love story for couples. Remind yourself as to why you fell in love and retell the story to each other. Embellish it. Fill it with romance. Add little forgotten aspects and wishes that you can now make come true. Make your love story a commitment to each other. Writing or rewriting it together can turn your relationship into a lifelong adventure.

Embrace forgiveness: Professor Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth"  talks about the essence of marriage, and later discussed this with journalist Bill Moyers on PBS. He called "loyalty" the essence of marriage — "not cheating, not defecting — through whatever trials or suffering, you remain true."

Bill Moyers added: “The Puritans call marriage the little church within the church. In marriage, every day you love, and every day you forgive. It is an ongoing sacrament — love and forgiveness.” 

(See The Science of Forgiveness, Baylor University, Center for Christian Ethics, 2001)

It seems that weaving a tapestry of gratitude, kindness, and respect might well be the secret to happily-ever-after.

Copyright 2016 Rita Watson  


Sara B. Algoe, Evidence for a Role of the Oxytocin System, Indexed by Genetic Variation in CD38, in the Social Bonding Effects of Expressed Gratitude. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013

Schneiderman, Ina et al. “Oxytocin during the initial stages of romantic attachment: Relations to couples’ interactive reciprocity.” Psychoneuroendocrinology.  2012 Aug;37(8):1277-85  

Navneet Magon and Sanjay Kalra "The Orgasmic History of Oxytocin: Love, Lust, and Labor." Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Sep; 15(Suppl3): S156–S161.

Marcel Zenter, "Matched ideals enhance couples' satisfaction, October 2005, Vol 36, No. 9.