Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Long-Term Love Not Just a Fairy Tale

• August 08, 2011 • 2:26 PM

A new study finds nearly three-quarters of Americans remain “very in love” after a decade of marriage.

And they lived happily ever after.

That fairy-tale inspired narrative of wedded bliss appears to hold true for a surprisingly large number of Americans, according to a newly published study.

In a random survey, 47.8 percent of married Americans (49 percent of men and 46.3 percent of women) reported being “very intensely in love” with their spouse, according to a research team led by Stony Brook University psychologist K. Daniel O’Leary. Another 13.4 percent said they were “intensely in love,” while 26.2 percent chose the term “very in love.”

Not surprisingly, those figures were lower for couples in the second decade of marriage compared with those in the first 10 years. But they bounced back in the third decade. For those married over 30 years, 40 percent of women and 35 percent of men reported being “very intensely in love.”

Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the researchers call these results unexpected. While few prior studies have addressed this issue, those that exist suggested the very-satisfied figure was in the 10- to 20-percent range.

“It is commonly assumed that intense romantic love occurs in the early stages of a romantic relationship, but decreases dramatically across time,” O’Leary and his colleagues note. Their research suggests this is not true for most married Americans and points to a number of factors that are linked to long-term love.

The researchers conducted two surveys. The first, a random-digit dialing survey, featured 10-minute telephone interviews with 274 married individuals (119 of whom were women). The participants’ mean age was around 47, and mean relationship length was 21 years.

They answered the question “How in love are you with your partner?” on a seven-point scale, ranging from “very intensely” to “not at all.” In addition, they described a variety of relationship-relevant feelings and behaviors.

“Thinking about the partner in positive ways, and how often they thought about the partner when not together, were two of the strongest predictors of intense love,” the researchers report. “Affection (hugging, kissing), frequency of intercourse, doing novel things together, and general life happiness were also significantly related to reports of intense love.”

The researchers note some gender differences in the responses. “Wanting to know the whereabouts of the partner was significantly associated with intense love for men but not for women,” they write.

The second study, conducted in a similar fashion, featured 396 married residents of New York state. These findings were significantly different: Only 33.3 percent of respondents said they were intensely in love. For those married 30 years or more, 19 percent of women and 29 percent of men reported this intense level of infatuation. The researchers suspect these results reflect previous studies suggesting that “general happiness” is lower in the Northeast than other regions of the country.

For half the participants in the New York survey, the researchers flipped the order of possible answers to the key question. They placed “not at all in love” on top and “very intensely in love” on the bottom, to see if it would impact the results. It didn’t.

O’Leary and his colleagues concede that participants may have exaggerated their feelings when talking to the interviewer. There are reasons to want to tell the world — and, for that matter, convince yourself — that you’re in a great relationship even when it’s not entirely true. They conclude, however, that adjusting for such factors would produce only minor changes in their results.

Sadly, there’s no clear guidance here for those searching for long-term love. It’s impossible to say whether the affectionate behaviors mentioned here (such as thinking about one’s partner in positive ways, and engaging in novel and challenging activities together) inspire intense love or are the product of intense love. Perhaps these activities and attitudes mutually reinforce one another.

Either way, it’s reassuring to learn that, of couples married at least 10 years, 74 percent reported they are either “very in love,” “intensely in love” or “very intensely in love.” With all the hand-wringing about the high divorce rate, could it be that the people who stay married are more likely to truly be in love?

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.


November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


November 24 • 10:00 AM

Why Are Patients Drawn to Certain Doctors?

We look for an emotional fit between our physicians and ourselves—and right now, that’s the best we can do.


November 24 • 8:00 AM

Why Do We Elect Corrupt Politicians?

Voters, it seems, are willing to forgive—over and over again—dishonest yet beloved politicians if they think the job is still getting done.



November 24 • 6:00 AM

They Steal Babies, Don’t They?

Ethiopia, the Hague, and the rise and fall of international adoption. An exclusive investigation of internal U.S. State Department documents describing how humanitarian adoptions metastasized into a mini-industry shot through with fraud, becoming a source of income for unscrupulous orphanages, government officials, and shady operators—and was then reined back in through diplomacy, regulation, and a brand-new federal law.


November 24 • 4:00 AM

Nudging Drivers, and Pedestrians, Into Better Behavior

Daniel Pink’s new series, Crowd Control, premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel.


November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


Follow us


Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.