"It's always been assumed that passionate love inevitably declines over time," said Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University and one of four authors of the study, presented in November at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C.There's more to Love than just Sex. All too many charged with overseeing morality on religious grounds don't see that. You'd think that they, of all people, would understand that Love is more than just the pleasurable rubbing of mucous membranes - though that's usually involved too, and with someone you truly love, is quite special.
"But in survey after survey we always have these people who have been together a long time and say they are intensely in love. It was always chalked up to self-deception or trying to make a good impression," he said.
This study suggests that's not the case, said Bianca Acevedo.
In fact, she said, the study found an advantage to the longer-term relationships she studied: The brains of those people showed less anxiety and obsessiveness.
Aron had conducted an earlier MRI study published in 2005 among 17 people who had recently fallen in love. He found that regions of the brain associated generally with reward and motivation - the same regions that light up when cocaine is taken - activated when the subjects were shown pictures of their beloved. These regions, Aron said, are not the same as those associated with sexual arousal.
It's neither necessary nor sufficient though. Useful, certainly, and when it doesn't happen, something valuable and beautiful is lost. But not the most important thing.
Using the same approach, the researchers recruited 17 people who, like Bernstein, said they were still madly in love with their spouses.The fMRI scans showed to the researchers' surprise, that people who fell in love, married and stayed together for so long, are just as much in love with each other as the day they wed.
Acevedo said it was impossible to extrapolate from their study what percentage of long-lasting couples might register the same intensity of emotion as her 17 subjects. But she said a previous phone survey of several hundred people in long-term relationships she and Aron conducted found about 35 percent rated their feeling for their partners as very intense.
"We were shocked," she said. "We hadn't predicted it would be that high."
Keith Davis, professor emeritus of psychology at University of South Carolina, said other studies support Acevedo and Aron's research.
"I think popular literature underestimates how many retain a high level of intense emotional investment with their partners," he said.
As I and my partner are, despite us both being women, and neither of us being lesbian. We may be... unusual. Unconventional, even. But we're not alone.
Our 27th wedding anniversary is coming up in two months. And we have, against all odds, a son who is the most important thing in both our lives. OK, I'm a hopeless romantic as well as being a scientist, but I love happy beginnings. Maybe you could say that our story would make the ultimate Chick Flick.