Romantic love, the butterflies-in-the-stomach early stage of romance, is generally considered unsustainable. After all, it takes loads of the feel-good chemical dopamine to create love's euphoria — so much that it would take a cocaine habit to sustain it. Though this at least explains why breaking up can feel like withdrawal, it paints a rather grim picture of the lifelong relationship.
Yet there are a handful of couples who claim to still be in knee-bending love decades into marriage, and now there's proof they're not lying, crazy, or codependent. Researchers at Stony Brook University found 17 people who had been married an average of 21 years and people newly in love. Each gazed at an image of their beloved while researches compared scans of their brains. The married people showed just as much dopamine activity as the newly in love and far less of the negative feelings — anxiety, pining, and intrusive thinking — associated with it. So it's like new love but better!
While we know a successful marriage can't exist on companionate love alone, nobody really knows how two people can stay infatuated for life. All researchers can say is couples with lasting romantic love have more sex than other married couples their age, but whether that's a byproduct or a contributing factor is unknown. There is hope, though. Whether a relationship relies more on romantic or companionate love, happy couples have one thing in common: they help each other expand their ideas about themselves.