Does Romantic Love Guarantee Long Time Relationships?
Some people say that romantic love could last until one’s last breath. Other people say that love is subjective and objective that is why the condition of being in love is not absolute and could not guarantee long lasting relationships. The basis of their claim lies on relationship break-up and divorce. Meanwhile, the latter group believes that romantic love could guarantee long term relationships pointing to successful marriages as their basis. Growing up in a community where divorce is legal, I often think that romantic love even among married couples is prone to fade thus leading to break up or separation. Moreover, I am used to considering not going to marry unless there is more reason than being in love with my partner.
If one is going to ask me why I choose to read books and journals that tackle topics about love and long-time relationship, it is because until now I am still puzzled on why some of my relatives and known family friends who got married and were able to raise some kids still managed to get a divorce in a matter of time. For example, one of my aunts, who got married at the age of 25 and have three kids, just recently broke up with her husband after 10 years of marriage. She came running to my mother asking what went wrong about their love and long term relationship. She claimed that she used to be so romantically in love with her husband and still posses that love even after the break up yet she feels like their marriage is going nowhere and that they could not stick together for all time. Although clueless, my mother tried to comfort my aunt and advised her to just move on. Indeed the same scenario occurs to other relatives and family friends, yet it was not until now that I began to have interest in seeking an academic answer of whether romantic love alone could really guarantee a long time relationship or marriage. After all, I also have some experiences of failed long time relationships which made me wary of falling in love again.
Helen Fisher (2006) on her article “The Drive to Love: The Neural Mechanism for Mate Selection,” she said that romantic love is primarily associated with emotions, behaviors and motivations. It is first manifested when an individual begins to regard someone as special or unique thus leading him or her to intensely focus his or her attention on that special someone. They show behaviors which are goal oriented and strongly motivated to win the one he or she loves. When the other individual shows a mutual feeling towards the one, they then establish a committed relationship which may be short or long term depending on the amount of romantic love involved.
Meanwhile, Fisher (2006) with reference from Aron and Aron (1991) identified that romantic love is not an emotion. Instead, it is a motivation system that enables an individual to maintain an intimate relationship with his or her preferred partner. It is a part of the brain system oriented on pursuing want or need. As for male and female romantic love relationship, the pursuit could be in the form of the satisfying feelings of attraction and attachment or simply of sex drive, also called libido or lust. Fisher (2006) also identified that when an individual has been rejected by his or her partner such motivation (romantic love) is prone to depreciate. Part of the human brain responds to rejection wherein the “right nucleus accumbens/ventral putamen/pallidum, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and anterior insular/operculum cortex” manifest the effects of rejection (Fisher, 2006, 95). The nucleus accumbens/ventral pallidum/putamen region is associated with reward system. Anterior insula/operculum cortex is associated with pain and anxiety, while the orbitofontal cortex is associated with “theory of mind” and obsessive/compulsive behaviors. When these parts of the brain respond to the feeling of rejection – as reward has been deprived; lovers feel pain and anxiety; lovers tend to misjudge their partners – it is likely that the motivation (romantic love) would be neglected by both partners.
On the question whether romantic love can guarantee long term relationship, Fisher (2006) provided this statement: “Romantic love can be sustained in a long-term relationship, but it generally becomes less intense” (p. 100). She explained that romantic love is an adaptive mechanism wherein the brain system during courtship and mating functions strongly thus stimulating intense passion towards the preferred individual yet tends to depreciate once the motivation has lowered or the drive or goal has been met. As in the case of couples, romantic love is intense until they conceive a child then tends to gradually subside as couples shift their feelings of attachment while rearing their child (Fisher, 2006). Thus, in conclusion, romantic love could guarantee long term relationship provided that the couple exhibits the feelings of attachment, satisfaction and reward.
Meanwhile, on the study conducted by Acevedo and Aron (2009), the researchers attempted to answer the question: “Does a long-term relationship kill romantic love?”. The researchers argue that romantic love coupled with intensity, sexual interest and engagement could last. To support their argument, the researchers conducted an evidence based review of related literature about the romantic love screening all taxonomies, theoretical perspectives and researches conducted by psychologists. Through this, the researchers were able to distinguish the passionate and compassionate forms of love. They took the closest characteristic of romantic love which is likable to Eros or “intense focus, valuing, and desire for union with the beloved without obsession” (Acevedo and Aron, 2009, p. 60).
To prove their argument, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional and longitudinal study among couples with long term relationship, or those who have been partners that are married for 10 years or more, and compared the results to couples with short term relationship. Results show that romantic love which manifest sexual interest, intensity and engagement minus the element of obsession is positively associated with long term relationship. Moreover, the researchers also discovered that most couples in long term relationship associate romantic love to marital satisfaction, overall well-being and mental health. They also found out that the obsessive characteristic of couples often leads to problematic relationship with their partner. Finally, the researchers concluded that long-term relationship or marriage does not necessarily kill romantic love and assumed that there are other factors that cause relationship break up.
Upon analyzing the two references which tried to answer whether romantic love guarantees long term relationship, I was left with another question of how does romantic love function in a long term relationship yet this question needs another discussion paper. In general, Fisher was able to clearly discuss the concept of romantic love and has provided a direct answer to my question such that “romantic love can last”. She was able to explain why even long term couples are prone to separation or relationship break up. Fisher was also able to enumerate the parts of human brain that are being associated with romantic love and how it functions in a long term relationship. She argues that the feelings of attachment, satisfaction and reward as associated with romantic love assure long term relationship.
On the other hand, Acevedo and Aron have different approach on explaining why some couple chooses to marry. They enumerated that satisfaction, sexual interest, intensity and engagement as reasons for long term relationship or marriage and the absence of those could trigger a divorce. They were able to identify one behavior which is being obsessive as a reason for failed relationship. With these findings, I have been convinced that romantic love can guarantee long term relationship as both the Fisher and Acevedo and Aron concluded on their psychological accounts of love. And that if romantic love still exists among couples, they should work it out to avoid losing their life motivation and drive.
Acevedo, B.P. And Aron, A. (2009). Does a long-term relationship kill romantic love? Review of General Psychology, 13 (1), 59-65.
Fisher, H. (2006). The drive to love: The neural mechanism for mate selection. In The new psychology of love. Robert J. Sternberg (ed.). New Haven, Conn. [u.a.]: Yale University Press.
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