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Falling in love -- and staying there

March 26, 2009 |  9:38 am

LoveMost marriage advice includes this nugget of wisdom: Don't expect the romance to last. Passion fades and couples are left with a relationship best described as a "warm afterglow."

But a new study finds this commonly held assumption just isn't true. Couples can maintain the romance -- defined as intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry -- in long-term relationships. The findings of the study, published in the March issue of the Review of General Psychology, could help people strive for more satisfying long-term relationships and even persuade some jaded single people to give love a try. "The assumption that time kills romantic love may undermine people's decisions even to enter into marriages," the authors wrote.

The paper is an analysis of 25 studies on relationship satisfaction involving more than 6,000 people in short- and long-term relationships. The researchers also looked at 17 studies of young adults in short-term relationships and 10 long-term studies of middle-aged couples who were married for 10 years or more. They concluded that people mistakenly believe that romantic love and passion are the same thing. While the two types of relationships do share some characteristics, passionate love also includes an element of obsession.

"Romantic love has the intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component," the lead author of the paper, Bianca P. Acevedo, said in a news release. "Passionate or obsessive love includes feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This kind of love helps drive the shorter relationships but not the longer ones."

The danger in acknowledging that romance can last, the authors note, is that couples who believe their loving companionship type of relationship is good enough might realize they're missing some sizzle. The study found that couples who reported greater romantic love were more satisfied than those who reported companionship-like love. Companionship-like love may be an unnecessary compromise in a relationship, said Acevedo, of UC Santa Barbara.

"Couples should strive for love with all the trimmings," she said. "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."

In other words, book that Caribbean cruise or call Dr. Phil.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A Lilly Pulitzer design entitled "Love You Too Much." Credit: Lilly Pulitzer