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The Science of Optimal Love

Question: What is optimal love?

Tal Ben-Shahar: Optimal love is about continuous growth within the relationship. It's about the partners becoming more intimate. It's about the partners finding more and more meaning in their relationship. It's about developing. It's about ups and downs, with the general trajectory being upward.

Question: What are the most common illusions about love?

Tal Ben-Shahar: One of the major illusions is that healthy love, a healthy relationship, is devoid of conflict, whereas in fact what we see when we study the best relationships is that conflict is part and parcel of a healthy relationship. In fact, when there is no conflict, it's a sign that the partners are suppressing, that they're ignoring things. And it's usually a prescription for failure. At the same time, when we only have conflict, or primarily conflict, that's also a bad sign. What we want to see in relationships is a positive ratio between positive experiences and negative experiences, so to have more love, more joy, more celebration, and at the same time a little bit of fighting and bickering can only help.

Question: How can people endure moments of conflict in relationships?

Tal Ben-Shahar: The psychologist David Schnarch talks about gridlocks within relationships. Gridlocks are points that we get to, and every long-lasting relationship gets to, where we're stuck, where we disagree about certain things that are fundamental to the relationship. And many people view these gridlocks as signaling the end, the necessary end, of a relationship, whereas in fact, as David Schnarch points out, these can very often be the genesis of growth, the beginning of a deeper relationship. So it's important to remind ourselves that very often -- not always, but very often -- gridlocks, fights, conflicts are points for potential growth if we work through them, if we honestly and opening grow through them.

Recorded on:  September 23, 2009

Happiness expert Tal Ben Shahar has dedicated ample time to his research on how romantic relationships can promote—and prevent—happiness. He tells Big Think what makes a winning relationship.

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