Can People Stay Madly in Love Forever?
Have you ever been in love, really, madly in love? Do you think it’s even possible? Well, many people would say that it is possible when you are young and when your relationship is still fresh, but what about after five, ten, or twenty years together?
Some recent neurological research investigated, for the first time, which brain regions are associated with long-term romantic love.
The brains of long-term married individuals who are still very close were scanned and compared to those of couples who have recently fallen in love. The results showed a similar activity in certain brain regions for both groups of people.
These results could be the clue to explain why certain couples stay madly in love years, even decades into their marriage.
Symptoms of Romantic Love
These are the symptoms of an intense romantic love which are common among those who are newly in love:
- — Craving for a union.
- — Focused attention.
- — Increased energy with the partner.
- — Wish to do things that make the partner happy.
- — Physical attraction and thinking about the partner when apart.
Romantic love can last
In this research, participants viewed facial images of their partners while their brains were scanned, together with the images of their close friends, highly-familiar acquaintances, and low-familiar people. The results showed 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, who conducted this research. “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.
Couples often wonder whether physical relationship and general interest in the other partner can be maintained through long-term relationships. The study said YES, they can.
The participants of this study who are in long-term romantic love said they have been strongly attracted to their partners even after many years of togetherness.
The results of this research have proven that the feelings of intensity, passion, and physical attraction, commonly found in early-stage love, can be maintained into long-term love, only if people want it to last. The explanation lays in the part of the brain called hippocampus. It is a part that is not so well-researched, but still some studies have linked the activation of the posterior hippocampus with hunger and food cravings. Other studies have shown that lesions in the hippocampus of rodents impair the ability to distinguish feeling hungry from feeling full.
What is known for sure about human’s hippocampus is that it is very important for memory. Furthermore, this area is important for remembering the stimuli associated with certain rewards.
Closeness is important
Romantic emotions activate the dopamine-rich brain regions that control reward and motivation. This suggests that romantic love is a desire and motivation to unite with another person.
During a long-term love, the area of the brain involved in motor and cognitive control is activated (the dorsal striatum), and it suggests that romantic love is a goal-directed behavior. So, wanting to be close to the partner or do things to make the partner happy, are enacted to maintain closeness and union.
This is fascinating – the brain scans of the study’s participants showed that the same parts of the brain that are active for long-term romantic love have been known to be engaged for maternal attachment.
The study showed that certain areas of the brain which are activated in intense romantic love are involved in the body’s response to pain and stress. Since the goal of the attachment system is to feel a sense of security, the association with an attachment figure reduces pain and stress. So, basically, feeling safe and secure is an important criterion in long-term intense romantic love.
Friendship love and romantic love
The research showed a huge difference between romantic love and friendship love. Generally, there is the distinction between “wanting” and “liking” – they are two different, mutually exclusive motivations. The romantic/passionate love is associated with the dopamine-rich systems linked to wanting and friendship love is related to liking.
As a result, romantic love is a motivation based on wanting, focused on a specific target, rather than a feeling or emotion.
Long-term romantic love and early-stage love
Even though long-term romantic love shows patterns of neural activity similar to early-stage romantic love, the study explained that for long-term romantic love, many more brain regions are included than in early-stage love. Surprisingly, some regions of the brain, like the opioid and serotonin-rich brain regions, are not active in early-stage love. They are involved in regulating anxiety and pain. This explains why people in long-term love have that specific sense of calmness, which is not found in early-stage love.
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