Have you ever wondered if it is possible to feel madly in love with someone after five, ten or twenty years together?
Well, a recent study published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, has shed some light on this age-old question. It investigated, for the first time, which brain regions are associated with long-term romantic love …and what it found can be directly applied to almost any relationship.
Researchers, led by Drs. Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron of the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, compared the brain scans of long-term married individuals to the scans of individuals who have recently fallen in love. The objective of the study was to investigate how brain system activity in individuals in a long-term intense passionate love compared to the brain system activity of individuals newly in romantic love.
What They Did
In order to investigate these neural activity areas, participants, while in the fMRI, viewed facial images of their partners, as well as control images including a close friend, a highly-familiar acquaintance, and a low-familiar person.
The brain activity of the participants viewing the facial images was then compared to the fMRI results of individuals in a previous experiment, who reported being madly in love with their partner within the past year. The results of the study indicated “very clear similarities” in certain parts of the brain between those who were in love long-term and those who had just fallen madly in love according to Dr. Aron.
By specifically engaging the particular parts of the brain that demonstrated increased neural activity during the experiments (namely the ventral tegmental area (VTA) which is a dopamine-rich reward system that has been reported in many studies of early-stage romantic love) it can help towards maintaining strong love in a relationship rather than just blindly hoping that the love lasts.
3 Tips Based On This Research
1. Ensure Your Partner Feels Safe & Secure:
The research shows that certain areas of the brain, such as the dorsal Raphe, are activated in intense romantic love. The dorsal Raphe is involved in the body’s response to pain and stress. Research indicates that association with an attachment figure (in this case a partner) reduces pain and stress. What we can gather from this research is that feeling safe and secure is an important criteria in long-term intense romantic love. Therefore, always make sure that your partner feels that you are there for the long-haul. Making your partner jealous, while it may have some short term ego boost, can in the long run damage the love in the relationship.
2. Take An Interest In Your Partners Interests:
Often closeness with a partner is measured bythe Inclusion of the Other in the Self (IOS) scale. In the study, the IOS scores of the participants were positively related to the areas in the brain involved in self-referential processing. This means that often closeness and union with another involves incorporating that person in our concept of our self. Therefore, your partner should feel that you are a part of them …and you should feel that they are a part of you. Remember when you first started dating where you took an interest in your partners interests? An effective way to raise both your IOS scores now, would be for each of you to take a keener interest again in one another’s interests hobbies. Yes, I know you might not be interested in his football matches or her cooking classes …but if you try, you might be surprised that you begin to take a shine to them.
3. Increase/Maintain Sexual Frequency:
The posterior hippocampus region of the brain is related to feelings of cravings and satiating desires. The study showed that this region of the brain demonstrated high activity for both people who had just fallen in love and people who were in a long-term romantic loving relationship. A key way of activating this part of the brain is through sexual activity. If you and your partners’ sexual activity has waned over the years, this will have led to a direct hit on the activity of this part of the brain …which will have lowered love levels. Restoring sexual activity to a relationship is not always easy for some. Visiting a sex therapist is an important first step if this area of your relationship is lacking.
So What Have We Learned?
At its most basic level, love is a chemical reaction in the brain. Or at least, it demonstrates a measurable chemical response in the brain. Therefore, if you can work on ways of directly stimulating that chemical reaction, you can directly work on stimulating love in your relationship. I don’t want to say that this is a “one-stop-method” for rebuilding love (it’s not), but it is one step which you can directly work on.
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