Can Romantic Love Stand the Test of Time?

Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable. – Henry Ward Beecher


We scientists can be a bunch of wet-blankets when it comes to the idea of romance. Many people believe that feelings of romantic love inevitably fade in relationships as the years go on. The idea is that we fall “in love” and over time those intense feelings fade and either the relationship ends or the couple remains together but experience a less intense friendship-like bond. Most researchers have largely agreed with this premise. However, a new paper from researchers at Stony Brook University shows that romance can be sustained in long-term relationships and that those who manage to do so are more satisfied in their relationships.

What is love?

Before we can determine if “love” can last, we first have to determine what “love” is.  Researchers often think about three types of love: romantic love, passionate love and companionate/friendship love. “Romantic love” is seen as being an intense “desire for union with the beloved” (p. 60). It involves intensity, attraction, engagement, and sexuality. What the authors call “passionate love” is often what we think when we think of the idea of “falling in love”. It involves the same intensity and attraction that is seen in romantic love, but there is also an obsessive quality to it, with people reporting difficulties concentrating on things other than their beloved, uncertainty, and mood swings. Finally, “companionate or friendship love” can be defined as “the affection and tenderness we feel for those with whom our lives are deeply entwined” (p. 60). This type of “love” is typically less intense than either romantic or passionate love and does not necessarily include sexual desire or attraction.

Can love last?

In this paper, the authors were interested in whether or not these three types of love were related to relationship satisfaction in short versus long-term relationships. What they found was that when they looked at both short-term (e.g. lasting less than 4 years) and long-term (e.g. averaging more than 10 years) relationships, those who reported experiencing “romantic love” in their relationship reported having the highest relationship satisfaction.That finding was true for both short and long-term relationships. In contrast, “companionate love” was only moderately correlated to satisfaction in relationships regardless of length of the relationship. And as for that “passionate love”, well, that only seemed to work well (i.e. associated with higher satisfaction) in short-term relationships.

These findings dispute the idea that the intense feelings associated with romantic love don’t last in long-term relationships. To the contrary, it seems that this type of “love” is an important predictor of relationship satisfaction even over the long haul.

Up next, how to rekindle the romance in your long-term relationship…

So the data suggest that contrary to popular belief, romance can stand the test of time and those who manage to keep the romance alive also report much higher satisfaction in their relationships. If that is the case, then the next step might be to address the question of how to bring some of that romantic love back into your relationship if it has lapsed a bit over time. Tune in to my next blog post for some tips on how to rekindle the romance in your long-term relationship.

Author: Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D

Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D. is co-founder and President of Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, Research, and Training Center in Portland, Oregon. As a clinical psychologist, Jenna specializes in working with clients struggling with relationship difficulties, including problems with intimacy and sexuality, trauma-related relationship challenges, and struggles people have in their relationship with their own bodies. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book, “Values in Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Helping Clients Explore Values, Increase Psychological Flexibility, and Live a More Meaningful Life.” Jenna is also a peer-reviewed ACT trainer and provides ACT trainings to professionals around the world.


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