If you are lost in a lover’s world wondering if the love in your life is here to stay, some simple clues might give you the answer.
Based on separate studies, love researchers have found that kindness and generosity of spirit — as reflected in words and body language — can be powerful predictors of long-term happiness. Contempt is the great relationship destroyer. But what brings two people together initially is more than just Cupid; it is the hormone oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a bonding hormone said to be responsible for parent-infant bonding. Also called the “cuddling” hormone, a study published in January 2012 in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology reported on love studies conducted in their labs. Researchers determined that “the people in new relationships had oxytocin levels that averaged nearly double those of singles. For couples who stayed together, oxytocin levels remained stable over a six-month period.”
Additionally, there was a similarity to what has been described in parent-infant bonding including: “Interactive reciprocity, including social focus, positive affect, [and] affectionate touch.” If we think of oxytocin as a bonding hormone, there will be no surprises from studies conducted in “The Love Lab” at the University of Washington in 1986 in which psychologists Robert Levenson and John Gottman observed couples interacting. After hooking them up to electrodes, they found that rapid heart rates, blood flow and sweating were predictors of a doomed relationship.
Later, at the University of Washington campus, researchers created a bed and breakfast retreat. In 1990, they invited 130 newlyweds to spend a day to observe them. The discovery was startling. As husband or wife made what researchers called “a bid” for connection, it was the spouse’s response that predicted the success or failure in the marriage.
For example, a husband may make a bid to his wife to share the experience of looking at a goldfinch in their yard. How his wife responds plays a crucial role in the relationship. If she reacts with kindness, she might accept her husband’s bid for connection. On the other hand, she might ignore him, or even retort with hostility, “You and those birds.” In a healthy, long-term marriage generosity of spirit and gratitude are predictors of life-long love.
Gratitude studies from the lab of psychologist Robert Emmons, of the University of California-Davis, found that if you practice acts of kindness — expressing gratitude that you do not necessarily feel — eventually you will find yourself becoming a more grateful person. Perhaps by smiling more often at your spouse or partner, even when you are angry, you might begin to mimic the gratitude concept. Think of the act of smiling as connecting the dots of attitude and emotion for the purpose of creating loving intimacy.
— Rita Watson, MPH, is a Journal relationship columnist who writes “With Love and Gratitude” for PsychologyToday.com.