Movies may try to convince us that a life well lived is filled with passionate, hot, romantic love, but longevity experts discovered something different. In fact, for many, falling in love marked the beginning of an overall decline in their mental and physical health. Yes, love is exhilarating but it is also accompanied by stress. Unless you endure the stage of falling in love, you won’t experience the actual long-term growing stage where the benefits really lie.
A study from Harvard University compiled connections between people’s habits and their well-being since 1930, revealing that the happiest and healthiest people shared one common denominator. It turns out that a stable romantic relationship is the most important predictor of late-life happiness. Refraining from smoking and staying active with exercise were important but not as critical as choosing to love someone every day in an intimate relationship. The researchers further clarified that marriage was not a necessary component; however, engaging in a committed relationship was key. The type of love that makes you happiest isn’t the love boasted about in movies; it’s companionship with an intimacy twist.
How do you know if you have the "right companionate love" versus the fleeting passionate love portrayed in movies? I have outlined four categories to help you.
1. Rooted in friendship. The healthiest relationship category began as friendships. These couples enjoy each other’s company and feel more secure with each other nearby. They feel adored and needed by each other. When researchers asked these partners what brought them happiness, they responded with many different specifics but always emphasized that being with their partner (best friend) was a major component.
2. Genuine stable affection. A healthy partnership doesn’t require you to remind yourself to offer your partner affection. They naturally turn to each other. Healthy couples go out of their way to express their love frequently, and because they know each other well, they are masters at focusing on the small things which matter most to their partner.
3. Showing your partner attention. In a long-term healthy love, partners focus their eye contact on each other. Even when speaking to a group, their partner’s eye contact remains more important than others in the crowd. They’ve made each other their biggest priority - much more important than impressing someone they barely know. Long term companionate relationships don’t waste time playing games or trying to win attention.
4. Honest and trusting openness. Companionate couples trust each other in words and deeds. Because they hold each other in high regard, when one messes up, they are open and honest about their mistakes. Long lasting committed relationships don’t expect perfection; they expect honesty.
No relationship is perfect. If companionate love does not explain how your relationship functions now, you can work toward this type of love. Practicing transparency, openness, and vulnerability with each other is an excellent way to begin. Falling in love is a wonderful feeling, but nurturing a long term committed companionate type of love may help you live longer.