Long-term Relationships: How to Keep the Romance Alive

Most of us are in awe - or disbelief - when we hear that a couple has been married for 50 years or longer. These days few marriages, let alone relationships, last that long. For instance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 76 percent of men who married in 1955 to 1959 stayed married for at least 20 years, while only 58 percent of men who married in 1975 to 1979 stayed married as long. Marital longevity also declined for shorter anniversaries or couples that stayed together five, 10 or 15 years.

But even if your relationship or marriage lasts for 10 years or more, it doesn't mean it's overflowing with romance. So what's the secret to keeping romance alive in long-term relationships? Perhaps a clue lies in how you define romance, as revealed in a study published in the Review of General Psychology.

"Many believe that romantic love is the same as passionate love," said lead researcher Bianca P. Acevedo, Ph.D. "It isn't. Romantic love has the intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component. Passionate or obsessive love includes feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This kind of love helps drive the shorter relationships, but not the longer ones."

Acevedo and her colleagues reviewed 25 studies with 6,070 individuals in short and long-term relationships to find out whether romantic love is associated with more satisfaction. They classified the relationships in each of the studies as romantic, passionate (romantic with obsession) or friendship-like love, and categorized them as long or short-term.

The review revealed that couples who reported greater romantic love were more satisfied in both the short and long-term relationships. Companion-like love was only moderately associated with satisfaction in both short and long-term relationships. And those who reported greater passionate love in their relationships were more satisfied in the short term compared to the long term. Couples who reported more satisfaction in their relationships also reported being happier and having higher self-esteem.

The researchers also discovered a few essentials that fuel romance, including high self esteem and feeling that a partner is "there for you." It makes for a good relationship and facilitates feelings of romantic love, said Acevedo. On the other hand, "feelings of insecurity are generally associated with lower satisfaction, and in some cases may spark conflict in the relationship. This can manifest into obsessive love."

Here are other ways to keep romance alive in your relationship:

  • Hold on to what you fell in love with in the first place. According to Dr. Brenda Shoshanna, a psychologist and relationship counsellor, it's common for people to begin to focus on negative traits as a relationship progresses. Instead of dwelling on faults, Dr. Shoshanna recommends holding on to how you felt about each other when you first met and when you saw only the best in each other.

  • Be ready for the special moments in a relationship and take time to create them. In a study of the 10 cities where romance is booming conducted by Sperling's BestPlaces, baby boomers (between ages 45 to 60) didn't wait for special occasions to shower each other with romantic items flowers and candy. "This study suggests that it is often the little things that they do that mean the most when it comes to expression of romance," said researcher Bert Sperling.

  • Stay in touch - in more ways than one. A study conducted in the United Kingdom revealed that couples who kiss and touch frequently, and who have sex two to three times a week had happier relationships and lasting romance. These more romantic couples were also more likely to call, email or text each other during the day.

  • Fulfill each other's needs. Dr. John Gray - renowned for his relationship books, including Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus - points out that men often underestimate how important romance is for women, and women don't quite get the high priority men place on sex. Taking care of each other's needs strengthens that feeling that a partner is there for you Acevedo talks about.

  • Have a date night. In the BestPlaces study, date night helped Dallas baby boomers to keep romance simmering. It's especially important after you have children. But it's also critical in an age where 10-hour work days, business trips, greater parental involvement in school, and technology diversions (such as online trading or 200 TV channels) are par for the course. It's easy for your partner to feel they're being ignored or taken for granted. Date night is a time to focus on just the two of you, and creates an automatic opportunity to rekindle romance if it's beginning to fizzle.

  • Be open to fun and happiness. Fun is a crucial part of bonding and of romance, states Dr. Shoshanna. But you also have to be willing to be happy, and to let go of grievances and self importance. "The very heart of romance is enjoying each other, feeling hopeful and alive."

Study References

Journal: Review of General Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 1, 59-65

Study Date: 2009
Study Name: Does a Long-Term Relationship Kill Romantic Love?

Website: http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/gpr13159.pdf

Authors: Bianca P. Acevedo and Arthur Aron

Journal: N/A

Study Date: 2007

Study Name: Where is Romance Booming Study

Website: http://www.bestplaces.net/docs/studies/RomanticBoomers.aspx
Authors: Bert Sperling BestPlaces, sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company