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Study of Long-Term Couples Reveals The Ties That Bind a Relationship

That crazy thing we call love is perhaps one of the most studied and least understood areas in psychology. One reason is that many studies of romantic relationships are carried out not in real life, but in the lab. Making matters worse, many of these studies involve dating relationships between samples of convenience, consisting of undergraduate students. Though these students are certainly capable of close relationships, many of them haven’t matured enough to know themselves, much less what they want out of a romantic partner.

What better way to find out about love than to survey the experts? Not the psychology experts—the expert members of couples who have been married 10 years or longer. The surprising findings of this study, reported in the prestigious journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, showed not only that many people were still in love even after 10 years of marriage, but also which factors predicted the strength of their passion. As reported by Stony Brook University psychologist K. Daniel O’Leary (2012) and his research team, the findings provided a stark contrast to the typically glum view we have of long-term marriages. Rather than being doomed to a bland, mediocre existence, these couples endorsed their positive feelings toward their spouses with hearty (dare I say) enthusiasm. A whopping 40 percent of those married 10 years or more stated that they were “Very intensely in love”—the highest rating on the scale. Another 15 percent gave their marriages the second-highest rating on the love intensity scale. Perhaps even more surprisingly, those who stuck together for 30 years and more also gave their marriages high ratings with 40 percent of women and 35 percent of men saying that they were very intensely in love. Clearly, many couples are able to maintain high levels of passion as the decades go by well into their middle and later years.

Just as clearly, not everyone felt the same degree of intensity about their spouses. The researchers turned next to trying to predict which relationships would be marked by the strongest degree of intensity. Psychological theories of love focus on such quintessential features as passion, commitment, closeness, early experiences in relationships, emotional needs, and ability to communicate. These are, of course, important to the health of any relationship. However, when it comes down to predicting which relationships will make it for the long haul, the questions become almost equally pragmatic as romantic.

Earlier research by psychologist Arthur Aron, who collaborated in this study, suggested that the people who are most intensely in love are the ones who feel a strong romantic attraction, but who also enjoy engaging in “self-expanding” joint activities that are novel and challenging…

Read more: Psychology Today

 

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