Ed. note: This week, in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, we’re featuring a 5-part series about the neuroscience of love and romance. At the end, we’ll put the full series on our website. Enjoy!
Unlike Helen Fisher, Ted Huston is more interested in studying what happens throughout long-term relationships. One interesting finding over a lifetime of research is that couples who idealize one another can lead to a happier marriage. According to Huston, “Usually, this is a matter of one person putting good spin on the partner, seeing the partner as more responsive than he or she really is.” Score another point for positive thinking.
Huston has also found gender differences in what makes for a happy marriage. For example, some of his studies have shown that women are happier in their marriage if they get to spend ample time with their husband and with friends and family, while men who are happy with their finances tend to be happier in the marriage. Both genders are happier when they feel they have “influence” over their spouse and when they are satisfied with their sex lives, but you probably could have guessed that without Huston’s years of research.
There are, of course, those people who have been together for decades and still act like two kids in love. If you scan the brain activity of those long-married lovebirds, they look an awful lot like the scans of Helen Fisher’s newly smitten sweethearts. In particular, the brain activity looks the same in regions associated with things like motivation, craving, and reward. Researcher Arthur Aron and colleagues note that “…while romantic love is a mystery, and maintaining it may never be fully understood, the study provides evidence and possibly clues to what may be essential activity in the brain for love to last.”
Read Part 1: When Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Read Part 3: The Neuroscience of Date Night
Read Part 4: Oxytocin, the Love/Hate Hormone
Read Part 5: No Room for Romance? Try Music Instead (But Not Junk Food)