What Keeps Long-Term Couples Together?

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For couples to stay together, they need more than just brain chemistry.

Robert W. Levenson, PhD, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley who studied a group of about 150 long-term first marriages for over 20 years, said that the ability of couples to soothe each other and calm down when things get heated is important for strong marriages.

“Humor, if used skillfully, is one of these ways that we do calm each other down, and it can be very effective,” Levenson told Verywell.

When you say you’re looking for someone with a good sense of humor, Levenson said, it can mean that you’re looking for someone who “has the skills to help calm my nervous system down.”

During intense moments of conflict, the partners must be able to share moments of laughter and positive emotion together for the automatic nervous system to cool down, he added.

While knowing how to navigate arguments is important for strong relationships, Brown said long-term partners who want to keep the romantic spark alive must continue activating the brain’s reward system intentionally. This could be scheduling date nights or cuddling in bed.

For some, romantic love seems more like a spiritual experience, and it cannot be explained by neuroscience. But Brown said understanding how romantic love works wouldn’t take away the pleasure.

“We were all born to experience magic, awe, and wonder—and this is all part of it,” Brown said. “Knowing about these systems doesn’t reduce your feelings of magic.”

Hormones and neurotransmitters are part of romantic love, but long-term couples have to put in some effort to keep their spark alive. Safe communication, date nights, and shared laughter can help keep relationships strong.

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