Long-term love is here to stay, and we can reveal the secrets to keeping intense love alive. The flames of love are fanned by four traits, according to the report of Daniel O’Leary and his colleagues at Stony Brook University from a survey of 274 couples married 10 years or longer. Some 46 percent of men and 49 percent of women said they were still “very intensely in love” when asked, “How in love are you with your partner?” How do they do it? Researchers found the four common themes running through these marriages were:

  • Sharing affection
  • Thinking positively and with gratitude about your partner
  • Engaging in shared activities
  • Being happy independently of the relationship

Sex and physical affection such as hugging and kissing is such an important element of love that the couples in the study who did not report any physical affection also reported a loveless relationship. While frequent sex was strongly associated with intense love, it was not always a requirement. Some 25 percent of those who had not had sex in the last month still reported being intensely in love.

Physical affection is so powerful that it may help make up for an imperfect relationship, the researchers found. If their levels of physical affection were high, some couples who said they have little satisfaction with their marriages−such as conflicts in parenting, financial stress and divisions of responsibility−still reported intense love.

Thinking positively about one’s partner is common among couples intensely in love. Being grateful for the value they bring into their partners’ lives counters the tendency in a long-lasting relationship to take each other for granted. Focusing on qualities that you appreciate and admire in your partner may spark feelings of more intense love as a result.

Sharing experiences may also cultivate love, the researchers found. Intimacy in a relationship can be strengthened by cooking meals together or running together, reading and discussing the same books, taking a class together to learn a new and challenging skill, or worshiping together. The memories created by sharing life keeps intense love alive.

The survey suggests that taking care of your own personal happiness may be especially important for women in maintaining intense love. Personal happiness was associated with intensity of love. Taking responsibility for one’s own happiness and well-being has the potential to drastically improve the quality of your relationship.  Something as simple as a girl’s night out at the ballet or a mani-pedi excursion to the spa isn’t a selfish indulgence. Taking some time for yourself can contribute to a more intense love relationship.

This report, which gives us some keys to maintaining the fires of love, appeared in The Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science. Thanks to Emma M. Seppala, PhD, who wrote about the report in her blog for Psychology Today.