I detest love lyrics. I think one of the causes of bad mental health in the United States is that people have been raised on love lyrics. – Frank Zappa

Since more marriages in the United States fail rather than succeed, it is clear that most people have unrealistic expectations and lack the skills necessary to maintain a good relationship.

What goes into being in love? Is it love at first sight, or something else?

In the January/February 2010 issue of Scientific American Mind, Robert Epstein outlines a series of exercises which emphasize vulnerability and which research has shown to enhance feelings of love.

Here’s what we know about mutual gazing, bungee jumping, and arranged marriages.

Gazing at someone increases positive feelings toward them. The key word here is mutual. Mammals stare at other mammals as a sign of intimidation, but if the gaze is mutual there is a shift toward emotional bonding. It is the vulnerability shared by the mutuality of the experience that ushers in the positive experiences.

Allowing yourself to look into the eyes of a willing participant tends to create a vulnerability that warms us up and helps us feel drawn to the other person. While the degree of attraction may differ, it is in a positive direction.

The article mentioned above also included 10 techniques for enhancing our intimate relationships. These 10 activities are drawn from Epstein’s research and mirror the kinds of activity identified by people in arranged marriages.

For example, about 95 percent of marriages in India are arranged. While couples can choose whether to act on the arrangement, the bottom line is that India has one of the world’s lowest divorce rates. Couples not only stay married, they tend to feel more satisfied in their love relationships when compared to Westerners.

Improving Your Love Bonds with Your Partner

Here are the 10 ways to enhance your intimate bonds with another.

  1. Arousal through means of exercise — bungee jumping, amusement park rides, dancing and the like — tends to create an emotional bond.
  2. Proximity and familiarity — simply being around others for a period of time — tends to induce positive feelings. This is particularly enhanced when individuals allow themselves to be vulnerable and permit each other to occupy some of their personal space.
  3. Birds of a feather flock together, and for good reason. Similarity to others in areas such as intelligence, background and level of attractiveness increases a sense of closeness.
  4. Humor goes a long way in a relationship. Research shows that women prefer male partners who can make them laugh, and happy marriages that last are those where spouses know how to tickle each other’s funny bone.
  5. Doing something new together brings us closer. When our senses are stimulated with something different we are vulnerable; this helps us connect.
  6. As anyone who ever met someone he or she started dating at a cocktail party will tell you, becoming less self-conscious and lowering your inhibitions can allow you to open up and connect. But it doesn’t have to involve alcohol. Anything that lets you feel less inhibited will work. Maybe it’s time to take that acting class, hmmm?
  7. Opportunities for spontaneity occur throughout the day, particularly though the act of being spontaneously kind to others. Research shows that simply counting the number of times each day you engage in kindness can make you happier. In fact, kindness, sensitivity, thoughtfulness and forgiveness increase our desire and capacity to bond.
  8. As you might imagine, touch and sexuality are part of what attracts us to each other. Consider an experiment where subjects were able to correctly identify the 10 emotions conveyed through touch by an unseen person. Our nonverbal somatic vocabulary is exquisite and much can be conveyed by touch.
  9. Self-disclosure to each other via secrets and personal thoughts and feelings generates a vulnerability that helps us link to each other in positive ways.
  10. Research has identified commitment as the cornerstone in the foundation of love. In fact, the more committed you are to a relationship, the less likely you are to see your partner in a negative light.

    In a companion article in the same Scientific American Mind issue, Suzann Pileggi reported on research challenging some of our thoughts — and confirming others — about what makes happy couples. The most powerful finding was that couples who thrive and flourish in their relationships are there for each other when the times are rough. But more important, they are there for each other when the times are good. Couples who stay together in loving relationships celebrate the joyous, happy moments in their lives and strive to incorporate more of these into their togetherness. Simple acts such as sharing a moment of gratitude or positive experience from your day with your partner generates feelings of greater security in the relationship as well as a stronger bond.

To summarize, if you want to be in love, gaze into each other’s eyes, go for a bungee jump, and celebrate that new promotion together.

I wonder if Mr. Zappa would approve.