BEING in a lasting relationship can lower stress levels and improve your overall health.
Successful relationships can can lower stress levels and improve your overall healthCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Helen Thomson believes science holds the key to finding love for life
Journalist Helen Thomson, author of This Book Could Fix Your Life, reckons science holds the key to finding love for life.
She says: “In 15 years of writing about the brain and behaviour, I have come to the realisation that it has made me an accidental expert on how to find and keep hold of a lasting, loving relationship.”
Natasha Harding picks out some of Helen’s proven tips for building the sort of stable, successful relationship that can boost your overall wellbeing.
When you are on a date, remember we judge others more by their appearance and body language, rather than what they say.
If you meet a stranger it is estimated that their impression of you is based 55 per cent on appearance and body language, 38 per cent on style of speaking and a mere seven per cent on what you actually say.
We judge others more by their appearance and body languageCredit: Getty – Contributor
To give the best first impression, adopt an open posture with no folded arms.
Mirroring body language such as sipping your drink at the same time as your date is good, as it helps create a feeling of affinity.
When pairs of strangers were asked to gaze into each other’s eyes, their feelings of closeness and attraction rocketed compared with, say, gazing at each other’s hands.
Eye contact activates regions of the brain associated with reward and pleasure.
Eye contact activates regions of the brain associated with pleasureCredit: Getty Images – Getty
But don’t hold the gaze too long and look away if it is not reciprocated or the other person will feel uncomfortable.
When you are trying to make conversation, use lots of short, snappy words of encouragement such as “go on”, “OK” and “I see”.
In real-world tests, people who do this seem to be rated as more attractive by their date.
Numerous scientific studies show that sharing a dramatic setting increases the chance of having romantic feelings for a person.
That’s because of a strong connection in the brain between anxiety, arousal and attraction.
Sharing a dramatic setting increases the chance of having romantic feelingsCredit: Getty Images – Getty
In the classic “shaky bridge” study, carried out by psychologists, men who met a woman on a high rickety bridge found the encounter sexier and more romantic than those who met on a stable one.
A visit to a funfair works too.
Photos of members of the opposite sex are more attractive to people who have just got off a rollercoaster, compared to when they are shown photos while queueing for the ride.
Similar to the last point, you are more likely to fancy someone if you are psychologically aroused, for example by watching a scary movie or a thriller together, as opposed to a calmer film, even a romantic one.
The theory is that the adrenalin rush you get from danger, panic or excitement may be misattributed in the brain to the thrill of attraction.
The adrenalin rush you get from danger may be misattributed in the brain to attractionCredit: Alamy
Geneticists have shown heterosexual people will be attracted to those who possess a particular set of genes, known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC).
Mates with dissimilar MHC genes produce healthier offspring with broader immune systems.
People tend to rate the scent of T-shirts worn by others with dissimilar MHCs as attractiveCredit: Shutterstock
And the evidence shows that we are inclined to choose people who suit us in this way.
Despite extensive research, it is still not clear how we identify people with different MHCs to ours.
It may be about smell — people tend to rate the scent of T-shirts worn by others with dissimilar MHCs as attractive. The message seems to be trust your instincts.
Having sex complicates the way you perceive a potential partner.
After sex, the brain releases oxytocin, which results in that warm, companionable feeling of love and the creation of the social bond that facilitates co-operative child-rearing.
Having sex complicates the way you perceive a potential partner
That is great in certain situations.
But it also means that sex on a whim can lead to temporary feelings of compassion for a person who is entirely wrong for you.
There is one exception to trusting your instincts.
Women who take hormonal contraceptives tend to prefer men whose MHC genes are similar to their own.
Make sure your feelings have not been masked by chemicalsCredit: Getty Images – Getty
So people on the Pill or other hormonal contraceptives risk choosing a partner they may feel differently about when they stop.
You might want to consider coming off hormonal contraception before committing, to make sure your feelings have not been masked by chemicals.
John Gottman, one of America’s most influential psychotherapists, researched love and relationships extensively.
He concluded that couples who stayed together demonstrated obvious acts of kindness towards each other.
Couples who stayed together demonstrated acts of kindness towards each otherCredit: Getty Images – Getty
He also suggested people ask themselves whether they are treated with love, affection and respect at the start of a relationship.
If yes, it suggested they are on the right track.
Gottman believed as people get closer, the other thing to look for is feeling a sense of shared purpose and meaning and values — and that you like yourself when you are with the other person.
Dr Gottman also identified the four things that are most corrosive to a relationship: Contempt, superiority, criticism and stonewalling, which is withdrawing emotionally from a partner and looking away rather than at them.
The most negative is contempt, involving direct insults and sarcasm.
The four things that are most corrosive to a relationship are contempt, superiority, criticism and stonewallingCredit: Getty Images – Getty
But the best predictor of divorce is superiority — the feeling you are better than your partner.
Attraction fluctuates over your menstrual cycle.
Men find women’s scents more attractive when they are near ovulation, and are more loving towards their partners as ovulation approaches.
Attraction fluctuates over your menstrual cycleCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Near ovulation, women prefer masculine traits.
At other phases of their cycle they prefer less sexiness and more stability.
One final secret of success is not about how you fight, but how you make up.
Those in successful relationships will notice some aspect is not going well and will attempt to repair the situation.
It is not about how you fight, but how you make upCredit: Getty Images – Getty
People who accept the attempt at repair, regardless of how bad the apology is, are more likely to stay together than those who do not acknowledge the effort.
and if the chemistry fails…
BEING in love is a lot like addiction, as it activates our reward system.
So it is not surprising that when we get dumped we find it difficult to give up the compulsion to see, hear and touch the object of our desires.
While we all know to take paracetamol for a headache, it might just be the key to getting over emotional heartache too.
Physical pain and social pain, such as the hurt caused by rejection, are controlled by overlapping neural systems.
Paracetamol acts centrally, easing pain by blocking chemical messengers in the brain.
So it makes sense it might help cure social pain, if taken responsibly. In studies, paracetamol taken daily for three weeks helped people experience significantly fewer hurt feelings than those who took a placebo.
But if you are suffering from heartache, it might be safer sticking to a simpler approach and cutting off your supply.
That means no calls or texts and not spending time staring at old pictures. Instead, replace your fix with something else that gives you a burst of the feel-good hormones dopamine and oxytocin.
Exercise will ramp up your dopamine, while social interaction can raise oxytocin.
In the end, time does heal.
We see that brain areas responsible for feelings of attachment diminish in activity in response to thoughts of a lost love over several months.
- This Book Could Fix Your Life by Helen Thomson, out now (John Murray, £14.99).
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