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3 Secrets to Lasting Love

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We all love a good “happily ever after” story, from fairy tales to romance movies. Yet, real-life chances for lifelong love can be uncertain and rare. A 2021 study pointed out: “How many people get married or divorced [8 per 1,000 marriages] really shows the impact of things like the economy, social norms, and what’s culturally accepted at the time. These factors also shape key family traits.” (Mayol-García, Census Bureau)

How common is lifelong love? If we consider a 25-year marriage as lifelong love, about 35% of married couples in the United States make it to their silver anniversary. Tips for reaching this milestone include: embracing change, always speaking kindly, choosing your battles wisely, and enjoying shared activities.

While I’ve previously written about lifelong love in “6 Science-Based Tips for Lifelong Love,” recent studies continue to support three key strategies: fostering positive illusions, showing gratitude, and practicing forgiveness.

Creating positive illusions

In a 2023 study, George and his team investigated how positive illusions affect personal relationships. They described positive illusions as seeing oneself, others, or situations more positively than what’s objectively true—a typical human behavior.

The researchers used data from 1,030 people, including 392 married couples, to closely examine factors linked to how happy couples are in their marriages.

Couples in the study rated each other on 13 areas, including how emotionally connected they felt, how much they shared activities, family involvement, and how positively they saw each other, which is often referred to as “positive illusions.”

The findings showed that relationships benefit when one partner views the other more positively than the individual views themselves.

Marcel Zentner, Ph.D., from the University of Geneva, noted in 2005, “Men and women who keep believing their partner is attractive, funny, kind, and just about perfect for them tend to stay happy with each other.”

The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is another crucial element in achieving lifelong love. Dr. Tyler VanderWeele from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains, “It’s tough to forgive someone who’s hurt you, but if you keep thinking about it, your mind gets filled with negative thoughts and hidden anger.”

He continues, “However, once you manage to forgive, you break free from the past mistakes of others and start to feel liberated.” (Harvard Health Publishing, Feb 12, 2021).

Dr. VanderWeele also leads the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality at Harvard.

Years ago, Professor Joseph Campbell talked about The Power of Myth with journalist Bill Moyers on PBS. Talking about what makes a marriage strong, Campbell mentioned, “It’s about staying faithful and true, no matter the challenges or hardships.”

Moyers added, “In marriage, you love and forgive, day in and day out. It’s a continuous blessing of love and forgiveness.” (Campbell, 2011).

Show Gratitude Often

Tying into the importance of forgiveness, a 2020 study on gratitude looked into how thanking each other impacts relationships. Published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers found that couples were happier when their levels of gratitude aligned with their partner’s. The study included 120 newlywed couples who shared how often they felt and showed gratitude towards their spouse each year for two years, and they also reported on their marriage satisfaction every four months over three years. 

When both partners feel deeply thankful, their marriage tends to be more satisfying and stable. 

Research from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley describes gratitude as the “glue” that holds relationships together. Their findings suggest that gratitude encourages couples to engage in behaviors that maintain their relationship, such as being responsive and committed. It also helps partners express appreciation, which strengthens security and shows how much they value the relationship. (“All You Need is Love, Gratitude, and Oxytocin,” 2012) 

Simply put, when both partners see their significant other as the ideal mate they’ve always imagined, they’re more likely to feel content in their relationship and less likely to consider splitting up. (McNulty, 2019) 

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