Tags: romantic love
, social cognitive and affective neuroscience
, bianca aceveo
Categories: Dating and Relationships
We’ve all heard claims from long-term couples who insist they are just as much in love with their partner today as they were twenty, thirty, or forty years ago (more in love, in many cases). If you’re lucky, you’re part of such a couple. As romantic as these tales are, however, society tends to write them off. Romantic love, that all-consuming, heart pounding, euphoric feeling, is thought to fade after many years, to be replaced by the pleasant, but less passionate “companionate love.” However, according to a new study published in the December issue of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, romantic love can actually last for many decades.
Researchers arrived at this conclusion by testing the claims of men and women who said they were still madly in love with their spouse after decades of marriage (an average of 21 years in the case of the study). Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron, both in the Psychology Department at Stony Brook University in New York, along with the study’s co-authors, scanned the brains of 17 people as they gazed at a photo of their beloved. The researchers then compared the results to scans of people who have just fallen in love. The results?
The scans looked very similar, which isn’t surprising considering that people in love use a certain region of their brain more often, but there was one surprising difference: among the long-term lovebirds, there was no activity in the part of the brain associated with anxiety and fear. Researchers, in fact, found the opposite.
"Individuals in long-term relationships may experience the excitement, sexual attraction, engagement, and intensity associated with romantic love," says Acevedo. "But they report pining, anxiety, intrusive thinking far less than individuals newly in love."
"Interestingly, we found activation of opiate-rich sites, such as the posterior globus pallidus," she added. "These sites are associated with pleasure and pain relief.”
Areas of the brain associated with pair bonding also showed considerable activity in men and women who were still head over heels.
Acevedo and the team believe the study proves that true love really can go the distance and that people who claim to be madly in love after many years aren’t lying or kidding themselves like many people think. The researchers also suggest that marriage counselors stop dismissing romantic love as an unrealistic goal for marriage.
"Romantic love need not be replaced with companionate love," says Acevedo. "Both can co-exist.