What are the ingredients of successful, loving, committed relationships? Is it some mysterious combination of chemistry and chance?

By no means. Researchers have made great strides in recent years in determining what makes relationships work, and it's not things like "good communication skills," "negotiation," or "hard work." One of the key characteristics of happy couples is understanding and appreciating the other person at a deep level. Dr. John M. Gottman, executive director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, has been able to predict with 90% accuracy which couples will make it and which will not, based on such factors as affection in conversations. Gottman told us that a couple's ability to "create shared meaning" through sharing values, rituals, goals, and symbols is even more important than coming from the same cultural, ethnic, or religious background. "A central way in which couples create shared meaning," he says, "is honoring each other's dreams."

In fact, shared values, as well as factors like optimism and tolerance, were found to be key sources of resiliency for couples, according to Dr. Marilyn Susman of Loyola University. Dr. Susman, who leads an ongoing survey of resilient couples, has found that shared values are even more important than communication skills or financial success in holding marriages together.

Perhaps the closest thing to a scientific basis for a soul mate is research conducted by Drs. Marcella Bakur Weiner and Edward Hoffman for "The Love Compatibility Book." Based on information from developmental psychology, personality theory, biology, and their own clinical work, the authors hold that a soul mate is "someone who shares your most important traits relating to intimacy." Romantic intimacy, they found, is based on 12 personality traits that include such values-related characteristics as idealism (including spirituality and altruism), nurturance (how much you enjoy or dislike taking care of others), and materialism (the importance of money and "things" in your life). The closer the "fit" between partners on all these traits, say the authors, the happier and more lasting the bond. Important to note: These traits don't change over time but become more pronounced--which is why Dr. Weiner says, "You need to understand your own and your partner's intimacy characteristics before embarking on a relationship."

Choosing a partner in tune with your values will help avert many problems down the road, according to Dr. Sam Hamburg, author of "Will Our Love Last?" Dr. Hamburg bases his findings on 25 years of clinical experience. One of the key determinants of emotional intimacy is what he calls "the Wavelength Dimension," which includes "values and aspirations, sense of justice, and spiritual orientation." Couples who are "on the same wavelength" can bridge religious differences because they appreciate and respect how deeply held each other's beliefs are, even though they may not share them.

Hamburg notes that similarity on the Wavelength Dimension imparts "a sense of emotional and spiritual communion. There is mutual affirmation. You want the same things in life." A relationship like this is truly a match made in heaven.

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