Love that lasts is the result of partners embedding themselves in each other’s brains in a positive way. Memory circuits and pleasure get all wound up together so that the other person becomes integral to the very structure of your brain, and you become part of the structure of theirs.
1. Companionate love.
Two types of love generally underlie marriage — romantic and companionate. Romantic love is most common in the early phases of a relationship. It is characterized by euphoria, intense physical attraction, frequent sexual interaction, and obsessive thinking about a partner. At times, it can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Passionate love, however, tends to fade after the first two years of a relationship, at which point couples become especially vulnerable to breakup. It is therefore advisable to wait on marital decisions until that mark has passed. Couples can then assess whether they have transitioned into companionate love. This type of connection is more stable and predictable than passionate love, if less exciting. The couple’s bond can be described as deep, comfortable, and caring.
Research demonstrates that the happiest, most long-lasting couples are best friends: They enjoy each other’s company, rely on one another for emotional support, spend their leisure time together, and share many things in common. The risk of companionate love is that partners may begin to feel too much like friends. What can they do to keep the spark alive? Read on.
2. Need fulfillment.
Satisfying relationships are characterized by a mix of predictability and novelty. Too much chaos and spontaneity is maladaptive; too little leads to boredom. When people get bored in a relationship, they are at higher risk for both infidelity and divorce. Partners can avoid boredom by inserting fresh, exciting activities into their lives. They might go salsa dancing, skydiving, or try new spots for dates or vacations. And novel activities outside the bedroom tend to lead to greater passion inside the bedroom.
A second way partners can keep their relationship fulfilling is to ensure they are meeting each other’s needs. Each of us has distinct needs, and partners must communicate and learn what is most important to each other. One person might value home-cooked meals, for example, while another prioritizes frequent sexual activity. Those who meet their partner’s needs—and do so better than an alternative partner could do—will experience high commitment in their union.
3. Reciprocal dedication.
Partners should believe in making the relationship work, no matter what. Many people enter marriage expecting it to last forever, but somewhere along the way, at least one partner changes their mind. It is vital to talk to your partner about their views on commitment: For example, do they believe in deal breakers? If so, what are they?
If your goal is to make the relationship last for life, your partner needs to feel the same way, and you both must be willing to work to make it happen. Prior to marriage, it can be beneficial to attend counseling with a therapist who can help you discuss and sort out differing views. Partners who engage in premarital counseling are also more open to seeing a therapist if and when they encounter marital difficulties down the line, which has been shown to augment their chances of staying together. Remember: The only people who can break up the relationship are the partners themselves. If you both remain committed to making it work, nothing can stop you.