Married Brains

Romance addicts have been growing despondent over the last few years. Their daydreams of a happily ever after life has been encroached upon by science. Romantic love, so say brain scanning scientists, is a temporary alternation of the human brain. It lasts 1 – 3 years maximum, then it is back to reality where cooperation and hard work make a life.

Well, according to the New York Times, there is hope, for some people:

Even so, academic researchers have become increasingly fascinated with the inner workings of long-married couples, subjecting them to a battery of laboratory tests and even brain scans to unravel the mystery of lasting love.

Bianca Acevedo, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studies the neuroscience of relationships and began a search for long-married couples who were still madly in love. Through a phone survey, she collected data on 274 men and women in committed relationships, and used relationship scales to measure marital happiness and passionate love.

Dr. Acevedo expected to find only a small percentage of long-married couples still passionately in love. To her surprise, about 40 percent of them continued to register high on the romance scale. The remaining 60 percent weren’t necessarily unhappy. Many had high levels of relationship satisfaction and were still in love, just not so intensely.

In a separate study, 17 men and women who were passionately in love agreed to undergo scans to determine what lasting romantic love looks like in the brain. The subjects, who had been married an average of about 21 years, viewed a picture of their spouse. As a control, they also viewed photos of two friends.

Compared with the reaction when looking at others, seeing the spouse activated parts of the brain associated with romantic love, much as it did when couples who had just fallen in love took the same test. But in the older couples, researchers spotted something extra: parts of the brain associated with deep attachment were also activated, suggesting that contentment in marriage and passion in marriage aren’t mutually exclusive.

“They have the feelings of euphoria, but also the feelings of calm and security that we feel when we’re attached to somebody,” Dr. Acevedo said. “I think it’s wonderful news.”


More interesting and perhaps more scary, is that this kind of happiness is not necessarily a lottery. What you and your spouse choose to do makes a difference:

Research from Stony Brook University in New York suggests that couples who regularly do new and different things together are happier than those who repeat the same old habits. The theory is that new experiences activate the dopamine system and mimic the brain chemistry of early romantic love.


I would be interested to find out more about what this means. My intuition is that trying a new restaurant in a different city wouldn’t cut the brain stimulating mustard. Too ordinary. My non-expert intuition is that both people would have to feel as if they shared something intense or significant. That seems to be how new relationships and friendships form.

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2 thoughts on “Married Brains”

  1. We were madly in love until alcohol addiction killed it, 20 years. My parents, 40. It’s certainly possible…

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