What’s the secret to falling and staying in love? Well fuck if I know. My parents are throughly weirded out by the fact that I’m bringing my ex home with me for the holidays. But here’s how you can use neuroscience to enjoy your relationship more while teaching your partner to love you better.
Researchers have found a variation in gene CD38 that’s correlated with “global relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness and positive emotions (particularly love).”
Even if you don’t have the love gene variation, you can probably fake it til you make it, according to science.
The first step toward global relationship satisfaction and positive emotions (particularly love) is perceived partner responsiveness. What that means is that you interpret your partner’s actions as loving.
If you got ignored or stood up, it’s not because they don’t care about you, it’s because they are really busy working hard to contribute to your shared livelihood. Human relationships involve a lot of ambiguity. Interpreting the ambiguities in the most happy-producing way will help ensure you stay in love.
I remember how crazy I used to get when my ex would be late to meet me. I still struggle with this. I interpret people being late as them saying their time is more valuable than mine. But some people don’t see it that way. They don’t mind people being late, because they don’t see it as a personal insult. So they assume other people don’t mind either.
No one is right or wrong here. There’s no objective answer to why people are late and what it means. Some research indicates that perpetually late people are just optimists who just chronically underestimate travel time. That’s my ex to a tee. He is one of the most energetic, fun-loving, chipper, silver-lining people I’ve ever met. What I loved about him, his sense of play and his carefree attitude, contrasted with my anxiety-prone ass. I needed that in my life, but sometimes it was annoying.
I wish I’d interpreted my ex’s actions as annoying but not insulting. It would have saved me a lot of needless angst. I mean he’s not late anymore, but I’m not sure it was worth all the fighting. Especially when I could have just explained to him how it made me feel and then just left when he was late.
If you’re worried about your rose-colored glasses distorting the “reality” of the situation, don’t be. There’s no benefit to seeing your partners slights as slights. None.
What would the benefit be? That you could more accurately predict when your relationship is over? Don’t worry about predicting a shitty future, work on creating an awesome one. We all live in realities of our own making. Make yours happy.
The other thing is, by seeing everything your partner does as good, you teach them how to be good. When you assume that your partner is showing you love, and express that to them, they get positive reinforcement when they do right, teaching them that they should do more of that. Teaching them that they are loving people, and good at being loving, and that they should do it even more. But even when they’re being assholes, interpreting it as love is the gentlest, most flattering rebuke. And it’s also instructional.
I’ll give you an example of a comment from a really hot guy that I could take either way. “You were always so nerdy, but you owned it.” It sounds kind of backhanded, right? I mean, we did connect over bitcoin entrepreneurship, so, guilty. But I have to remember that this was after he told me he had a crush on me. I’m going to interpret that as him saying that I’m very confident in who I am. That I have my interests and I get really into them regardless of their social cache because I’m not about that life. I’m about that authentic excitement.
If you have trouble doing this, I feel you. I am the worst about this. I see everything as an insult. I assume everyone is rejecting me always. I recently friended this really pretty, cool girl on Facebook after we hung out a few times in groups. And I was so nervous to do it! I was like, what if she doesn’t want to be my friend? Then the next time I saw her she said she’d tried to friend me but my limit had been reached (with libertarian dudes). Why did I think she didn’t want to be friends? She’s a nice, cool person. I’m… well, not cool, but mostly inoffensive in person.
One reason this might be is that there’s evidence that our brains are kind of hardwired to see social exclusion on the horizon, whether it’s there or not. It’s theorized this is a strong warning system stitched together when social exclusion meant almost certain death. Some people have these alerts on a more sensitive setting than others. Not only that, but you train your brain to interpret signals as rejection the more you do it. Any repetitive thought literally builds a pathway in your brain to save energy. It’s called neuroplasticity. And it is why certain patterns of thought can be so tough to change. But neuroplasticity also means you can cut new paths in your brain.
If you’re not used to interpreting your partner’s actions as conscientious, your social exclusion alert system is probably on high. You’re probably a kind of anxious person. And/or you have felt a lot of rejection or one big rejection early. This taught you to expect rejection. But you can change the way your brain works. You can build new pathways. By consciously deciding to interpret ambiguity positively you teach your brain to work in a new way. Soon, it will come as easily or more easily than a negative interpretation. When my ex was late I used to get enraged. When a new guy I was dating was late three times in a row recently, I was merely annoyed. Progress, not perfection.
You can also build new pathways in your partner’s brain. When you interpret your partner’s actions as good and loving, you’re teaching your partner that they are a good and loving person. And people don’t like to act in ways that contradict their view of themselves, good or bad. Psychological research indicates that cognitive dissonance is one of the least pleasant feelings.
When you perceive your partner as good, maybe even better than they are, you create a more loving bond. You create a happier world for yourself. And you teach them how to be a better lover.
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