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Frequencies of love: What makes a happy relationship?

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It has been a mystery for ages. But with the tools of modern psychology and science, we are able to understand it much better. Love has been analyzed, dissected, stripped of its mysterious veil, but it never lost its magic. And although no wars are started anymore because of romantic impulses, love still drives much of our everyday life.

Unfortunately, EEG studies on love are still in their infancy. However, after a few decades of psychological research, the practical side of love has been thoroughly examined. In this article, we will first look at some recent research on the neural aspects of the romantic state, and then cover the key aspects of having a happy love life.

Brain on love

What happens in your brain when you’re in a state of love? A group of researchers from Italy decided to examine romantic feelings using EEG. Although it may sound difficult to induce a state of love in a lab setting, the experts from Padova found a way with the help of sounds and memories.

Before the experiment, each participant selected a love song that reminded them of their romantic partner. During the first part of the task, the participants listened to their chosen songs while focusing their thoughts on their beloved. In the second phase, they wrote down words that reminded them of specific events related to their relationship and explained why they chose those events.

The love induction group had increased alpha band activity in their right hemisphere, especially when they were listening to love songs. On one hand, researchers associate this finding with the calming effect that love has on the brain. However, the increased alpha brainwaves also reflected a state of being focused on internal thoughts.

It turns out that the brains of people experiencing romantic feelings become much less responsive to any stimuli which is unrelated to their love interest. Their attention is reduced for any pleasant, unpleasant or even potentially threatening information.

Is it good or bad? It’s not so easy to say. If you live in an environment where its hard to survive, being in love could potentially make it more difficult to spot potential threats. On the other hand, being less stressed and anxious about work because you think about your partner all the time? I would call it a win.

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Let’s admit it: we are not always smart when it comes to love. Fortunately, the psychologists researching it for decades came up with some general tips. They will not help you to brew a magic love potion or seduce any partner you want. But they can make you more aware of what’s really important if you want happy and rewarding relationships.

Developing the capacity for love

A group of researchers from the University of Virginia found that satisfaction from love life can be predicted by the factors that take place in adolescence. Surprisingly, there is no link between the number of romantic relationships in the teenage years and later romantic satisfaction. What matters is the level of social skills.

The key to a successful love life is developing a stable concept of self. Those adolescents who are most likely to build satisfying love relationships in adult life are usually autonomous and assertive, able to maintain their own opinion even in the face of peer pressure. They also expect their peers to have positive responses to them. Such social confidence may have roots in developing styles of attachment in childhood. Nevertheless, in late adolescence, the ability to develop and maintain close friendships is predictive of having a happy love life as an adult.

It turns out that what makes you a good partner are the skills of assertiveness and social confidence. According to another study, relationship satisfaction was predicted by cognitive flexibility and the level of differentiation.

Cognitive flexibility refers to awareness of communication alternatives, being flexible, and being willing to adapt to the situation. It plays a key role in the relationship dynamics of solving conflict and resolving disagreements. We all know how hard it is to deal with an inflexible partner, unable to change his or her opinion or behavior.

Differentiation is the ability to maintain one’s sense of self when being emotionally close to others. This can get especially difficult in intense relationships. Differentiation allows you to keep the balance between being emotionally bonded and intimate and maintaining your own autonomy.

Going through tough times together

A true test for relationships is dealing with turbulent times. A partnership is more than just two individuals living their lives. They form a new being that experiences ups and downs together. Psychologists call it a dyad.

Being in a relationship comes with a caveat: not only do you experience the stresses of your own life, but you are affected by those of your partner. It is simply not possible to separate your experiences. Whenever you’re sad, angry, or stressed, it will also affect your loved one – and vice versa.

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On the other hand, being in a relationship may come with a lot of support – but only when the partners are able to deliver it. In psychology, dealing with difficult times as a pair is called dyadic coping. Research shows that it’s one of the most important relationship factors. The quality of dyadic coping is one of the strongest predictors of separation. Positive dyadic coping increases relationship satisfaction. On the contrary, maladaptive coping may increase partner anxiety, and in some cases result in breakups. What is needed for successful coping? Studies show that the number one factor is communication. The second one is understanding each other’s feelings and mental states.

Taking care of yourself

Psychology researchers have pretty much identified what makes love lasting. There is no magical ingredient. Love satisfaction doesn’t come from finding a perfect partner, but mainly from your own mental capacities. It needs a mix of assertiveness and flexibility, of empathy, and openness for negotiation. Most of all, it needs active effort to maintaining the spark of passion alive.

In a relationship, you are a team. Your stress and anxiety transfer onto your partner. Taking care of yourself and your own resources is vital for the dyad’s well-being.

References

Cannas Aghedu, Sarlo, M., Zappasodi, F., Acevedo, B. P., & Bisiacchi, P. S. (2021). Romantic love affects emotional processing of love-unrelated stimuli: An EEG/ERP study using a love induction task. Brain and Cognition, 151, 105733–105733. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2021.105733

Hill. (2009). Predictors of relationship satisfaction: The link between cognitive flexibility, compassionate love and level of differentiation. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Norbert Meskó, Fanni Őry, Zsuzsa Happ, & András Norbert Zsidó. (2022). Sex Differences in Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction: The Effects of Dyadic Coping, Love, Sexual Motivation and Having Children. Interpersona : an International Journal on Personal Relationships, 16(2), 277–294. https://doi.org/10.5964/ijpr.7217

Allen, Narr, R. K., Kansky, J., & Szwedo, D. E. (2020). Adolescent Peer Relationship Qualities as Predictors of Long‐Term Romantic Life Satisfaction. Child Development, 91(1), 327–340. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13193

Joel, Eastwick, P. ., Allison, C. ., Arriaga, X. ., Baker, Z. ., Bar-Kalifa, E., Faure, R. M. ., Kluwer, E. ., Visserman, M. ., & Wolf, S. (2020). Machine learning uncovers the most robust self-report predictors of relationship quality across 43 longitudinal couples studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – PNAS, 117(32), 19061–19071. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1917036117

About the author

Mateusz Konopacki specializes in Psychology and Cognitive Science. He is an author of multiple courses and articles, as well as research on meditation and shamanic drumming. At the time when he is not explaining science to people, he is a screenwriter and a Yoga teacher.

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NeoRhythm has not been evaluated by the FDA. These products do not claim to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical conditions. Always consult your medical doctor regarding any health concerns.

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