Menus Subscribe Search

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

August 22 • 6:17 AM

The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.


August 22 • 6:00 AM

Long Live Short Novels

Christopher Beha’s Arts & Entertainments comes in at less than 300 pages long, which—along with a plot centered on a sex-tape scandal—makes it a uniquely efficient pleasure.


August 22 • 4:00 AM

Why ‘Nature Versus Nurture’ Often Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense to try to separate the social and the biological.


August 21 • 4:00 PM

Julie Chen Explains Why She Underwent Westernizing Surgery

The CBS news anchor and television personality’s story proves that cosmetic surgeries aren’t always vanity projects, even if they’re usually portrayed that way.


August 21 • 2:37 PM

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There’s heightened functional connectivity between the brain’s emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.


August 21 • 2:00 PM

Cracking Down on the Use of Restraints in Schools

Federal investigators found that children at two Virginia schools were being regularly pinned down or isolated and that their education was suffering as a result.


August 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, School Principal?

Noah Davis talks to Evan Glazer about why kids aren’t getting smarter and what his school’s doing in order to change that.



August 21 • 10:00 AM

Why My Neighbors Still Use Dial-Up Internet

It’s not because they want to. It’s because they have no other choice.


August 21 • 8:15 AM

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.


August 21 • 8:00 AM

To Fight the Obesity Epidemic Americans Will Have to First Recognize That They’re Obese

There is a void in the medical community’s understanding of how families see themselves and understand their weight.


August 21 • 6:33 AM

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.


August 21 • 6:00 AM

The Fox News Effect

Whatever you think of its approach, Fox News has created a more conservative Congress and a more polarized electorate, according to a series of recent studies.


August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


August 20 • 8:40 AM

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.


August 20 • 8:00 AM

What the Cost of Raising a Child in America Tells Us About Income Inequality

You’ll spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in the United States, or about five times the annual median income.


August 20 • 6:00 AM

In Praise of ‘American Greed’

While it remains semi-hidden on CNBC and can’t claim the car chases of Cops, American Greed—now with eight seasons in the books—has proven itself a worthy endeavor.


August 20 • 4:00 AM

Of Course I Behaved Like a Jerk, I Was Just Watching ‘Jersey Shore’

Researchers find watching certain types of reality TV can make viewers more aggressive.


August 20 • 2:00 AM

Concluding Remarks About Housing Affordability and Supply Restricitions

Demand, not supply, plays the dominant role in explaining the housing affordability crisis. The wages are just too damn low.


August 19 • 4:00 PM

Can Lawmakers Only Make Laws That Corporations Allow?

There’s a telling detail in a recent story about efforts to close loopholes in corporate tax laws.


Follow us


The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There's heightened functional connectivity between the brain's emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

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