The good news for couples is this: romance can last a lifetime. Recently, researchers Acevedo and Aron studied short- and long-term relationships and found that romantic love, which they defined as love with intensity, engagement, and sexual interest, can exist in long-term relationships. Commonly, people believe that inevitably (with time) romance dies out and relationships slowly turn into a companionship/friendship-type love.
It turns out it isn’t inevitable for romance to die and that those who are able to keep it going are more satisfied in their relationships. Not only that, but couples who reported more satisfaction in their relationships also reported being happier and having higher self-esteem.
It is important to note here that the authors differentiated between romantic love and what they termed “passionate love.” Passionate love drives shorter relationships, and it’s the kind of love that we associate with movies, novels, and fantasy. Romantic love has intensity, engagement, and sexual chemistry. Passionate love (otherwise known as “obsessive love”) has all of that too, but it also includes feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This makes the partners feel more obsessed with each other and creates excitement but also imbalance and feelings of insecurity. This kind of love cannot be sustained over the long-term without creating dissatisfaction and conflict.
The authors’ findings are useful in helping us to shape our goals and expectations regarding long-term relationships. Their research confirms the idea that couples should strive for a deeply-fulfilling romantic love, and know that it is an attainable goal. Likewise, couples who have settled into a companionship love need not compromise, and instead can work to revive the romance between them. Either way, however, it is important to note that the authors do not ascribe to the fantasy notion that romantic love “just happens” and/or “just dies” arbitrarily. Lead researcher Bianca P. Acevedo, Ph.D., states that couples should know that romantic love is an attainable goal, but that it, “like most good things in life, requires energy and devotion.”
This notion is also unfamiliar to most couples: romantic love takes work to create and sustain. There is an almost child-like fantasy that most people have in our culture that love should be easy and effortless. While it is true that most couples have these types of experiences of love that is easy and effortless, it is also true that there are times when it is not easy, and takes effort. There are times when it is work to learn to love someone the way they want to be loved and not the way you think they should be loved. That intensity, engagement, and sexual excitement often take forethought, attention, and creating the time and space for it to happen. That it takes intention to act in loving, affectionate ways and to listen carefully to the needs, wants, desires, thoughts, and feelings of the person you love. It’s work. But put the work of it into your relationship and you may be surprised how much you end up getting out of it... and the payoff can last a lifetime.