based on Happy Together – Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP and James O. Pawelski, PHD.
The Secret Recipe to Being Happy Together
Against common belief, love, is not the key ingredient to staying happy together as a couple.
Apart from the elusive and varied nature of love which makes it somewhat unreliable as a long term source of happiness, positive psychology has discovered from empirical studies that the secret to long-lasting relationship happiness comprise of four ingredients: passion, positive emotion, savouring and character. Before understanding more about each of these ingredients, let us first be convinced why love is not enough.
Why Love Is Not Enough
There might be moments when it felt like this love would last forever, that this strong feeling itself is able to triumph over all the challenges in a lifetime. “I have never felt this way before…” We thought to ourselves as we brushed aside black and white memories of our past relationships. Colours of emotions had faded with time, we could not even recognized that this strong love which seemed new and fresh now was something we had many times before.
Then there are times when you really do not like the person you’re with, despite the vows and how you have loved him or her. Something about him or her really annoys you and you can not say “I love you” looking into his or her eyes.
The happily ever-afters in fairytales and movies which sold us unrealistic and overly dramatized stereotypes of love did not help in recognizing the truth that romantic love, in terms of a strong physical and emotional attraction to each other, is not enough to keep a couple together forever.
4 Ingredients to Staying Happy Together
1. Having the right kind of passion for the relationship
The right kind of passion is not the stormy steamy one you might have in mind. It is a more comprehensive, sustainable, harmonious form of passion based on the “Aristotelian lovers”. Instead of being together because of benefits or pleasure, which could be easily muted by external circumstances, Aristotelian love for each other is about loving the good in each other. This should make the couple committed to each other’s well-being and supportive of mutual growth, instead of controlling the other or sacrificing oneself for the other in the name of love and passion.
2. Practising positive emotions
Start with oneself to experience positive emotions on a daily basis. This is not to say that positive emotions are good and negative emotions are bad. No judgement on the emotions as they are all human expressions and serve different purposes. Generally speaking, negative emotions narrow our focus to prepare us for fight or flight, while positive emotions expand our perspectives and thought-action repertoires, giving us opportunities to increase our resources. Practising positive emotions in our daily lives therefore provide us more positive experiences and the same applies to our relationships. Emotions are also contagious so by practising positive emotions, we influence our partners’ moods and behaviours too.
3. Taking time to savour good moments
Savour, is to take time to focus on enjoying and appreciating. There is a certain slowness in this since taking time is a necessary requirement. One also need to have the mental space to be appreciative and fully in the moment.
Appreciation also needs to be expressed so that savouring can work the magic to spark and upward cycle of mutual savouring in the relationship. A truly collaborative activity is also a way of savouring and connecting strongly with your partner in that moment, without judgment and expectations or the need to dominate or impress the other.
4. Growing on each other’s strengths in character
Character is made of characteristics. There is no absolute good or bad when it comes to characteristics. Take the example of being cautious. On one extreme of being too cautious may become cowardice while on the other, becoming reckless. When properly balanced, characteristics become virtues. Understanding one’s strengths is not to judge but rather, to first be aware and accept one’s characteristics on the continuous scale, understanding where the balance lies and improve on one’s own behaviour to develop an even stronger, better character. At the same time, understanding your partner’s strengths. Doing activities that let both of your strengths to play out is a good way to spend time together in a mutually satisfying way.
Love is an action, not just a noun
Instead of fantasizing love as a noun, an emotion or an ideal, consider love being an action, where continuous effort is put in to create, build and sustain your relationship. In real life, love does not stop at “I do” and happily ever-after. The happily ever-after is where love actually happens. Living is love, and love is living. Now you know the recipe of staying happy together, make it happen.
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