Presenting the Scientific Basis of Love
By Beverly B. Palmer, PhD
The article below was just published today (July 30) in the Association for Women in Science Magazine, Summer 2018
Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life began in 1985, on my one-semester sabbatical, because I wanted to present the scientific basis of loving relationships.
There had been an explosion of research articles on loving relationships in journals until 1975, when U.S. Senator William Proxmire gave a Golden Fleece Award to the National Science Foundation for spending $84,000 on a study about love, He reasoned:
I object to this not only because no one—not even the National Science Foundation—can argue that falling in love is a science; not only because I’m sure that even if they spend $84 million or $84 billion they wouldn’t get an answer that anyone would believe. I’m also against it because I don’t want the answer,
I believe that 200 million other Americans want to leave some things in life a mystery, and right on top of the things we don’t want to know is why a man falls in love with a woman and vice versa.
This just spurred me on to bring the latest scientific research to the public. Furthermore, I wanted to present this research in a user-friendly format.
After I finished the book, which I initially titled, Love Life, an agent began working to find a publisher for it. However, he died suddenly, and then let life (work, child-care, aging parent care) interfere. I stuffed the manuscript into a box, which eventually landed in my garage.
Fast-forward thirty years: Standing in my garage, looking up at all the boxes piled high on shelves, I realized that when I’m gone, my son will come in and throw everything in the dumpster. So, i began a campaign to clean out the garage.
Among Christmas cards from long ago and lecture notes that were hopelessly outdated, found the lost manuscript. As I skimmed through its 185 pages my thirty-year-older and more experienced brain realized that this manuscript was not the best. Yet, my editorial self could not let it go.
I realized I had been continuing to read journal articles and books that presented research on love and that I had even been using some of this material in my lectures. So, I began rewriting the manuscript, bringing it up-to-date with the latest scientific evidence. And then I rewrote it and rewrote it, finding my voice and the best way to relate to my audience along the way,
I again was spurred on by current events. A book on love hit the nonfiction bestseller list But this book was written by a pastor, and it presented opinions not science. Similarly, most of the websites giving relationship advice contained only opinions. A book on scientific evidence about love was very much needed
Besides presenting advice based on scientific findings, I wanted to include the entire experience of adult love—from how people meet, fall in love. create love, and fat} out of love to how they come to love again. I wanted young adults to read this book before they got into a serious relationship. In that way, they might become aware of the red flags to watch out for. Newlyweds could read this book so, when the excitement of passionate and romantic love started to fade, they would know how to build a love that lasts, Couples in a long-term relationship could discover how to cope with negative feelings of anger and hate, as well as how to resolve conflicts satisfactorily. I also wanted to reach people who have lost a love, so that they could more deeply understand their feelings and even love again.
The challenge was to make reading this book relatable and entertaining for a general audience. To flesh out the scientific findings, I included lively case studies from my private practice. To increase reader involvement, I included many self-assessments that could also be shared with one’s partner, In the preface, I even encouraged readers to leave the book open to a page they want their partner to notice.
Scientific research provides powerful and practical tools that you can use to solve your love life I want to share some of these tools, described in my recently released book, Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life, which you can use to make your love last.
Science says there are three attitudes essential for a love that lasts—empathy, acceptance, and appreciation—ail crucial not only for a maturing and lasting adult partnership but also for parent-child relationships. Empathizing and telling each other that you do understand the partner’s perspective prevents and even resolves many conflicts. John Gottman has shown that it is the proportion of negative to positive statements that predicts an unhappy relationship and even one that leads to dissolution, Similarly, a 1 to 5 proportion of positive to negative statements can preempt or even de-escalate negative interactions during a conflict. Empathetic statements are intensely positive statements, and empathetic statements can even help resolve conflicts in one’s professional life.
Acceptance means valuing a partner’s uniqueness, both their strengths and weaknesses, rather than judging or criticizing them, Your partner’s behavior might irritate you, but you dont have to direct your upset at your partner as a person. You can, instead, let your partner know you are just commenting on the behavior and that you still value your partner as a person.
The third ingredient is letting each other know, every day in many different ways, how much you appreciate each other, There are many ways to show appreciation. Noticing what your partner is saying or doing and commenting favorably on it is one way. Hugs, smiles, and saying, “Thank you,” show that you value having your partner in your life. Take a moment right now to show your partner some appreciation—today and every day.
A personal note I would like to add is that my husband and I recently celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. I guess some of the evidence-based advice I wrote about was tested in our relationship to see if it really worked.
Algoe, S. B., Haidt, L, & Gable, S. L. (2008), Beyond reciprocity:
Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8, 425—429. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC2692821/
Hatfield, E., and Walster, G. W. (1978). A New Look at Love. University Press of America. p. viii. https•flbit.ly/2rWRMgW
Gottman, and Levenson R, W. (1992). Marital processes predictive of later dissolution: Behavior, physiology, and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 63, 221-233.
Rogers, C. R. (1961) On becoming a person. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 342-344.