Can Romance Endure, or Does All Love Fade to Friendship?

March 24, 2009 03:16 PM
by Shannon Firth
New studies say “love with all the trimmings” is possible in long-term relationships, but maintaining romance takes work.

Keeping the Spark

That love fades with time seems to many a sad and inevitable reality. New research, however, shows that romantic love can endure in long-term relationships, and that settling for “companionate love” is not necessary.

Bianca P. Acevedo, Ph.D.—who completed a study of love at Stony Brook University—along with co-researcher Arthur Aron, Ph.D., noted the distinction between romantic and passionate love: “Romantic love has the intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component.”

In the full report (available online at the American Psychological Association’s Web site), companionate love is defined as “a warm, less intense love, devoid of attraction and sexual desire.” Acevedo and Aron also published their study in this month’s Review of General Psychology.

Their study contradicts previous research, such as a 2005 study from the University of Pavia suggesting that romantic love, measured by a brain chemical, lasts only a year on average.

According to Live Science, Acevedo explained that most earlier studies focused on passionate love, or early stage love, rather than romantic love, and contributed to the perception that love doesn’t last: “The obsessive component is generally combined with the romantic component. Thought of that way, it looks like it’s diminishing.”

Acevedo and Aron looked at 25 studies of 6,070 individuals. Of these studies, 17 addressed short-term relationships of subjects aged between 18 and 23, and 10 explored long-term relationships, generally of middle-aged couples that on average were married 10 years or more. Two of these studies looked at both long and short-term relationships.

Their mission was to establish whether or not romantic love leads to more satisfying relationships. Their strategy involved grading each relationship as romantic, passionate, or friendship-like love, and labeling it short or long-term.

In both long and short-term relationships, the couples that showed the most satisfaction in their relationships demonstrated romantic love. While couples exhibiting “companionate love” were only moderately satisfied across both long and short-term relationships. Science Daily noted that couples that viewed themselves as being in “passionate love” were more satisfied in short-term relationships than long-term ones.

Acevedo and Aron also reported that couples who were more satisfied in their relationships were happier and displayed higher self-esteem.

According to Live Science, the 13 percent of people who maintained romantic love in their long-term relationships made these relationships “central to their lives” and sought to settle arguments “relatively efficiently and smoothly.”

PsychCentral writer, John M. Grohol, highlights suggestions from research about maintaining long-term relationships, advising couples to try new activities and confront new challenges together. He emphasizes, “Feeling that your partner is ‘there for you’ is invaluable for a good relationship.”

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Related Topic: Love on the brain; making love last

In a 2005 study, Arthur Aron asked whether “the pursuit of love and sex are different emotional endeavors or whether romance is just warmed over sexual arousal.” His results showed that feelings of love versus those of “facial attractiveness” activated different parts of the brain, and that love is ultimately “more powerful.”

Ladies Home Journal notes that staying in love takes work. The magazine profiles seven couples that have made their love last, through activities such as morning walks and childless vacations. Diane M. Daniels’ advice is to know your partner: “A man who responds well to compliments will also visibly shrink from a harsh word, so he needs extra care when his spouse speaks to him.”

Inspired by a Buddhist couple from Arizona who haven’t been more than 15 feet away from each other in 10 years, Hannah Rosin and David Poltz followed one another around (sometimes attached by a string) for one day. FindingDulcinea’s Must-See Video captures their bizarre experiment.

Reference: Marriage


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