We've all read the fairy tales and watched the "rom-coms," but most of us maintain a certain cynicism when it comes to romantic love. Sure, it may exist, but it certainly doesn't last in long-term relationships. Passion and romance give way to routine, boredom, and even infidelity. This is just the disappointing truth about romance, right?
Not necessarily, according to Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron, two psychologists at Stony Brook University. In a recent paper, published in the Review of General Psychology, they examined research on long-term relationships and conclude not only that romantic love—intense, engaging, and sexual—can persist, but that it's a reasonable and important goal for couples to work toward. In a meta-analysis of 25 studies of long-term marriage, Acevedo and Aron found that a significant proportion of married couples report being intensely in love. So why are we still so skeptical?
Acevedo and Aron argue that we underestimate long-term relationship satisfaction partly because we confuse romantic love and passionate love, which is like romantic love plus obsession. While many long-term couples report having deep, strongly connected, and sexual relationships, these relationships are no longer characterized by a distracting preoccupation with one another. Acevedo and Aron find that a lack of obsession is certainly not a bad thing; in fact, obsession is associated with poor relationship satisfaction in long-term marriages.
The authors say it's critical to dispel the myth that romantic love cannot persist in long-term relationships. They argue that if partners recognize their potential to love one another for years, they won't settle for the status quo.
"In terms of real-world implications," write Acevedo and Aron, "the possibility of intense long-term romantic love sets a standard that couples (and marital therapists) can strive for that is higher than seems to have been generally considered realistic."