Most couples make a special effort to focus on each other several times a year—often birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day. But 3 great days out of 365 is not enough to sustain a quality relationship. It's long-term focused attention that creates relational retention.
I have posted many suggestions and strategies to create a great relationship. These include making a great first impression,[i] sparking chemistry through conversation,[ii] and the allure of authentic interest. But for relationships to progress to a deeper level, there has to be more.
Research has revealed the possibility of experiencing intense, long-term romantic love.[iii] But how do we create that reality within our own relationships? How do people who have experienced emotions consistent with falling in love remain in that positive emotional state—while ensuring their partners feel the same way?
How We Fall in Love
Researchers have identified a variety of factors relevant to falling in love. Suzanne Riela et al., in a piece entitled “Experiences of Falling in Love,” examined 12 precursors to falling in love that interacted with gender, ethnicity, culture, and speed: “reciprocal liking, appearance, personality, similarity, familiarity, social influence, filling needs, arousal, readiness, specific cues, isolation, and mysteriousness.”[iv] Among other findings, they noted that the results of their studies found few differences related to gender, ethnicity, and speed, although those that were found were predicted.
Beyond precursors, however, there are intentional ways of sustaining quality relationships, including the experience of being in love. Perhaps not surprisingly, they include some of the attractive qualities identified within relational precursors. Three methods of intentionality are authenticity, attention, and relational investment.
1. The Attraction of Authenticity
As indicated by research, shared interests strengthen relationships. But the caveat is that the passions that build partnerships have to be genuinely enjoyable to both parties. Professing to be an avid football fan when you cannot name the teams in the Super Bowl (although you may know who is performing at the half-time show) is not a sustainable façade. But shared passion runs deeper; it incorporates mutual visions and values. You can always acknowledge and admire each other’s different tastes in music, cuisine, and sports, while celebrating shared ideals and morals.
2. The Allure of Attention
You would not sit down for a first date and immediately position your phone on the table between the two of you (I hope). Would you do it on a third date? How about within your first year of marriage? Quality time should occur within a distraction-free zone. That means barring an emergency, rely on voicemail and your trusty email inbox to avoid interruptions while you focus your attention on your partner. Sustained relational attention over time transmits the comfort of consistency, assuring your partner that he or she is (still) important.
And remember that distractions include more than your device. Creating chemistry through conversation is not possible if you are constantly interrupted. Would you meet with an important client or conduct a job interview at a ball game or street fair? Maintaining chemistry follows the same principles, allowing you to spend quality time with your partner physically, as well as mentally and emotionally.
3. Relational Investment
Even when you are in a relationship, life happens. You have divided loyalties and responsibilities to your family and your job, and no doubt have other interests; so does your partner. But take steps to ensure that attending to your own needs and interests does not come at the expense of your personal relationship. True, there are limits to relational self-sacrifice, particularly if there is an adverse impact on your physical and emotional health and wellness. After all, you have to be mentally and physically well yourself to take care of anyone else. But it is also true that dedicating time to maintaining relationship quality is an investment in both yourself and your future.
Facebook image: Oleggg/Shutterstock
[iii] See, e.g., Acevedo, Bianca P, Aron, Arthur, Fisher, Helen E, and Brown, Lucy L. 2012. “Neural Correlates of Long-Term Intense Romantic Love.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 7 (2): 145–59. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsq092.
[iv] Riela, Suzanne, Geraldine Rodriguez, Arthur Aron, Xiaomeng Xu, and Bianca P. Acevedo. 2010. “Experiences of Falling in Love: Investigating Culture, Ethnicity, Gender, and Speed.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 27 (4): 473–93. doi:10.1177/0265407510363508.