Happily Ever After: Can Romantic Love Really Last a Lifetime?

A concern many young couples is the possibility that their feelings for each other won’t last forever. While the possibility of losing one’s love is dreadful, it would be naïve to think that all couples will stay blissfully in love forever. Statistically, about one marriage in every thousand in Singapore ends in divorce. Even with couples who do stay together, some couples may no longer have any romantic feeling for each other. So does this mean that a lifelong marriage full of romance is not possible?

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Actually, it is possible. Romance can – and does – last a lifetime, reports a recent study published in the Review of General Psychology. The study was headed by Bianca Acevedo, then working at Stony Brook University, and co-authored with Arthur Aron. Reviewing 25 studies with over 6,000 individuals in short- and long-term relationships, they found that many relationships do last with both partner feeling romantically in love with each other. Their findings run counter to the idea that all relationships inevitably run out of romance and turn into just a companionship-type affair. More than that, the study also found that couples who maintain a romantic relationship are happier and have higher self-esteem.

An important point of the study is the differentiation of romantic love and passionate love, which is described as an obsessive kind of love that involves feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. (In short, the stuff that movies and novels are made of.) In contrast, romantic love is characterized by a steady level of intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry (or the stuff that real happy marriages are made of).

“Many believe that romantic love is the same as passionate love,” said Dr. Acevedo. “It isn’t. Romantic love has the same elements that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component. Passionate or obsessive love … helps drive the shorter relationships but not the longer ones.” She added that while passionate love creates excitement, it also creates imbalance and feelings of insecurity. It’s probably a good way to start a relationship – and, certainly, many couples in Singapore start out this way – but it’s not an ideal model for long-term relationships.

The study is important in helping couples adjust their expectations about their own relationships, especially for those in Singapore who plan to get married and are anxious that they might eventually be tied to a life without romance. The findings are also relevant for couples who share only a companion-like love (which is, unfortunately, what many people have come to believe as the natural progression of all successful relationships), but would like to reintroduce romance into their relationship.

Largely influenced by western countries, Singapore has built a culture that promotes the idea of love as something spontaneous and effortless. But Dr. Acevedo says that a lasting relationship that has romance is usually neither. According to her: “Couples should strive for love with all the trimmings, and couples who’ve been together a long time and wish to get back their romantic edge should know it is an attainable goal that, like most good things in life, requires energy and devotion.”

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