Is long-term love more than a rare phenomenon? If so, what are its correlates?

From Social Psychological and Personality Science

Valentine’s Day is upon us and many thoughts around the world turn to love. What is romantic love? Can it last forever? This article considers how romantic love adapts in long term relationships. Recently some theorists proposed adaptive reasons for romantic love to endure, which contradicts a common idea that romantic love dwindles over time in exchange for companionship. This research examined for the first time the prevalence and key theoretically relevant correlates of intense romantic love in representative samples of long-term married individuals. A substantially larger percentage of married individuals reported being intensely in love with their partners than predicted. In the US national sample, even among those in marriages of 30 years or more, 40% of wives and 35% of husbands reported very intense love for their partner. Outside the marital relationship, general life happiness was predictive of reports of being intensely in love for both women and men in the national sample. This is consistent with research showing strong links between marital quality and well-being. The findings provide a scientific basis for the development of a conceptualization of long-term intense love by showing factors associated with love, such as thinking about one’s partner in positive ways, engaging in novel and challenging activities together, and engaging in affectionate behaviors and sexual intercourse.



Some individuals in long-term marriages report intensities of romantic love comparable to individuals newly in love. How common is this? Are correlates of long-term romantic love consistent with theoretical models of love? In a random sample of 274 U.S. married individuals, 40% of those married over 10 years reported being “Very intensely in love.” Importantly, correlates of long-term intense love, as predicted by theory, were thinking positively about the partner and thinking about the partner when apart, affectionate behaviors and sexual intercourse, shared novel and challenging activities, and general life happiness. Wanting to know where the partner is at all times correlated significantly with intense love for men but not women. For women, but not men, passion about nonrelationship factors significantly correlated with intense love. In a random New York (NY) sample of 322 individuals married over 10 years, 29% reported being very intensely in love and our predicted correlates cross validated.


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Article details

O’Leary, K., Acevedo, B., Aron, A., Huddy, L., & Mashek, D. (2011). Is Long-Term Love More Than A Rare Phenomenon? If So, What Are Its Correlates? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3 (2), 241-249 DOI: 10.1177/1948550611417015

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