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10 Keys to a Successful Romantic Relationship

10 Keys to a Successful Romantic Relationship

In romantic relationships, as with so much else, it’s the little things that count. Just as a mis-spoken word or odd look can throw a couple into a weeks-long feud, small and seemingly insignificant gestures can help keep a relationship on track. A little gift, an off-hand compliment, a moment of physical contact can vastly strengthen a relationship.

According to psychologists Nathaniel Branden and Robert Sternberg, who have both researched and written about the challenges of romantic relationships, these little displays of interest and affection can be more important than all the “active listening” and trust games in the world. Their research has suggested 10 keys to keeping both partners content, satisfied, and happy with each other.

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1. Tell your partner you love them.

Although it’s true that actions speak louder than words, words often speak more clearly than actions. Take a moment every now and then to verbalize your feelings for your partner. A simple “I love you” or “You mean the world to me” can go a long way towards making your significant other feel wanted, cared for, and secure in your relationship.

2. Show some affection.

Small acts of physical intimacy – the hand on the small of the back as you brush by in the hallway, your arm around their shoulder on the sofa, your hand on their thigh when seated side-by-side, holding hands while walking down the street – give your partner a warm feeling and convey the love and affection you feel for them. The littlest touch can be as important, or even more important, than the longest night of sexual intimacy.

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3. Show appreciation for your partner.

Let your partner know on a regular basis what it is that you like most about them – what you admire, what makes you proud, what their strengths are in your eyes. Building a romantic relationship isn’t jsut about the initial bonding – it’s about encouraging and supporting each other’s growth over the course of your lives. Help your partner achieve his or her potential by constantly building them up.

4. Share yourself.

Don’t keep your likes and dislikes, dreams and fears, achievements and mistakes, or anything else to yourself. If it’s important to you, share it with your partner. More than that, be sure to share more with your partner than you do with anyone else. While there is certainly a need for some personal space in even the closest relationship, give as much of yourself and your time as you can bear to your partner.

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5. Be there for your partner.

It’s obvious what you need to do when your partner faces a major life challenge like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. But it’s just as important to be supportive when your partner faces life’s little challenges, too – an argument at work, a rough commute, a misplaced check. Don’t let yourself be a doormat, and definitely don’t stand for physical or verbal abuse, but thicken your skin a little and be the voice of calm and reason when chaos strikes. Listen to what’s bothering them and offer whatever help – even if it’s just sympathy – you can.

6. Give gifts.

Take advantages of opportunities to give material tokens of your love. Just the right book picked up at the bookstore, a special dessert, a piece of jewelry or clothing you noticed at the store – anything small or large that tells them you were thinking of them. Leave a love note for them, or send them an SMS at work to “I love you” – again, the little reminder that they’re always on your mind will help your partner feel better about themselves and secure in your relationship.

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7. Respond gracefully to your partner’s demands and shortcomings.

A big killer of relationships is unreasonable expectations. Unless you married a robot, your partner comes pre-loaded with a whole range of human failures and foibles. These are features, not bugs! Learn to recognize and appreciate your partner’s quirks for what they are: an essential part of who they are as people. Since our weaknesses are often at the core of our deepest insecurities, make sure you don’t pick on or otherwise go out of your way to highlight your partner’s flaws.

8. Make “alone time” a priority.

No matter how busy both of your lives are, make sure you commit at least an evening every week or two to be alone together. Have new experiences, share your stories, and just generally enjoy each other’s company.

9. Take nothing for granted.

Cultivate a daily sense of gratitude for your partner and the thousands of little blessings he or she has brought into your life. Remember that, if you’re happy in your relationship, your partner is doing a thousand little things for you every day to make your relationship work (as, hopefully, you are for them). Never take that for granted – a relationship is work of the highest order, and the second you stop it starts to slide away.

10. Strive for equality.

Make sure you follow the Golden Rule in your relationship: do unto your partner as you would have done unto you. Strive for a fair division of household duties and other tasks, and don’t expect or demand special considerations you’d be unwilling to offer in return.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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