Study Reveals Secrets Of Staying Madly in Love
February is the month of love and as John Lennon and Paul McCartney said, ‘All You Need Is Love’. But what is the secret to staying madly in love?
Is it even possible to feel madly in love with someone after five, ten, twenty years together?
Due to recent neurological research, we are a bit closer to answering these perplexing questions and demystifying the secrets behind achieving intense, lasting, romantic love.
A recent study published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, investigated, for the first time, which brain regions are associated with long-term romantic love.
Researchers compared the brain scans of long-term married individuals to the scans of individuals who have recently fallen in love. Surprisingly, the results revealed similar activity in specific brain regions for both long-term, intense romantic love and couples in early-stage romantic love. These particular brain regions could be the clue to why certain couples stay madly in love years, even decades, later.
A group of researchers, led by Drs. Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron of the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of happily married individuals (10 women and 7 men) reporting intense romantic love for their partner after an average of 21 years of marriage.
The Characteristics of Intense Romantic Love
Intense romantic love typifies symptoms (common to being newly in love) including:
1. Craving for union
2. Focused attention
3. Increased energy with the partner
4. Motivation to do things that make the partner happy
5. Sexual attraction and thinking about the partner when apart
The objective of the study was to investigate how brain system activity in individuals in a long-term intense passionate love compared to the brain system activity of individuals newly in romantic love.
In order to investigate these neural activity areas, participants, while in the fMRI, viewed facial images of their partners, as well as control images including a close friend, a highly-familiar acquaintance, and a low-familiar person. The brain activity of the participants viewing the facial images was then compared to the fMRI results of individuals in a previous experiment, who reported being madly in love with their partner within the past year.
Additionally, the neural activity of the participants reporting long-term romantic love was compared with results based on questionnaires they took measuring passion, obsession, closeness, friendship, inclusion of the partner in the concept of the self, and sexual frequency.
Researchers were interested in one brain region in particular, the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The VTA is of specific interest because it is a dopamine-rich reward system that has been reported in many studies of early-stage romantic love.
Being Madly in Love Can Last!
The results of the study indicate that the feeling of intense passion can last in long-term relationships. “We found many very clear similarities between those who were in love long-term and those who had just fallen madly in love,” says Dr. Aron. “In this latest study, the VTA showed greater response to images of a long-term partner when compared with images of a close friend or any of the other facial images.”
This means that the VTA is particularly active for romantic love. “Interestingly, the same VTA region showed greater activation for those in the long-term couple group who scored especially high on romantic love scales and a closeness scale based on questionnaires,” Dr. Acevedo explains.