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7 Ingredients of Love

November 16, 2012

By TOM MUHA For The Capital

To have love in your life requires that you learn the seven skills that differentiate between couples who maintain a strong marriage and those who slide into misery.

The following seven ingredients of love represent my integration of the research by John Gottman at the University of Washington and the more recent positive psychology research by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania.

  • Mapping your love’s life.

Having awareness — a map — of what happens each day in your partner’s world is the lifeblood of a loving relationship. Talking 20 minutes every day forms a solid foundation for sustaining a connection as a couple.

When people become like ships passing in the night, there can be no caring, no joy, no affection, no humor, no passion. Without mapping, a relationship withers and dies.

  • Building fondness and admiration.

Having a daily discussion about the ups and downs in your partner’s life provides the opportunity to encourage them during their struggles as well as to applaud their successes.

Without five times more positive exchanges than negative, people become unhappy. They become increasingly critical of their partner, provoking frequent defensive reactions. As couples slide further below the 5:1 threshold, their conflicts escalate into angry exchanges, which lead to partners stonewalling each other.

  • Turning toward your partner.

When partners become flooded with negative emotions they must make a difficult decision. Happy couples turn toward their partner by soothing the raw emotions. They use humor, affection and support, all of which are effective in shifting from conflict to cooperation.

Continuing to show positive feelings toward your partner after an angry exchange is the best predictor of marital stability and happiness.

But many people turn away from their partner because they think that the problem is so severe that they’re better off working it out alone.

Eventually they find sources of satisfaction outside of the relationship and over time end up living parallel lives. That choice leads to loneliness.

  • Maintaining a positive perspective.

Looking at life optimistically is the skill that allows you to tell yourself that problems are temporary and can be contained to specific areas of life. Optimists appreciate the positive parts of their partners by telling themselves that those good traits are permanent and will pervade all aspects of their relationship.

Pessimists, on the other hand, take the problems personally and see them permanently ruining every realm of their relationship. They reject their partner’s attempts to repair the relationship. They dismiss any effort to infuse some positive energy as merely trying to avoid the problem.

  • Managing problems.

While some problems in relationships can be resolved, a whopping 70 percent are not solved to everyone’s total satisfaction. Frequently, there is no middle ground on differences involving personality or core needs.

But happy couples find a way to dialogue about such issues in a manner that allows them to continue to express positive feelings for each other. They fix what they can and make peace with the rest.

Successful couples simultaneously communicate acceptance of their partner along with their desire for some degree of improvement regarding their perpetual problems.

For those conflicts that can be resolved, couples need to accept that compromise is the cornerstone of a win-win solution. They allow themselves to be influenced by their partner’s position, which permits them to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.

They start their conflict resolution conversations with a soft tone that communicates a cooperative attitude, thereby persuading the other person to join in a constructive conversation.

  • Supporting hopes and dreams.

Having hopes and dreams gives your life purpose, a major component of happiness. Couples who help each other to realize their aspirations are able to achieve high levels of success and satisfaction.

But if you don’t feel your partner understands your dreams, or worse, opposes them, then you will see them as the sole source of your problems. Your relationship will be forever locked in fear, limiting your interactions to fight, flight or freeze.

  • Making marriage meaningful.

A spiritual connection develops in those couples who understand that they are better together than they would be dealing with life as individuals. They also find that having a spiritual connection to the higher power gives them the faith they need to fight their way through the tough times.

Couples who achieve the highest level of happiness understand they are a part of something bigger than they are, which motivates them to work together to help others have a better life.

Dr. Tom Muha is a psychologist practicing in Annapolis. Previous articles can be found at To contact him, call 443-454-7274 or email

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