WEDNESDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- Although the popular notion is that people in long-term relationships transition from a passionate romance to a comfortable, affectionate partnership, new research suggests that just isn't true.
Reporting in the March issue of the Review of General Psychology, researchers explain that while the manic, obsessive feelings that come with a new love tend to fade over time, romantic love may not. And, for those whose romantic desires remain, their relationships tend to be more satisfying.
"The compulsiveness of early stages of love may not be present in long-term relationships, but you can still feel romantic love, desire, sexual interest for someone you've been with for many, many years," said study author Bianca Acevedo, who was at Stony Brook University in New York at the time of the study.
"Romantic love is achievable, and there are some positive health implications for being in a positive relationship," added Acevedo, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Acevedo explained that researchers and the media often portray romantic love as something that has to fade over time. But, she said, what researchers have failed to do in the past is to tease apart long-term desire from the obsessive aspect of early relationships.
"In the early stages of a relationship, everything's uncertain, and there's a lot of anxiety that's just not present in long-term relationships. When we assess romantic love apart from the early obsessive aspect, a pattern of satisfaction emerges even more clearly," she said.
For the study, the researchers reviewed 25 previously conducted studies on both short (less than four years) and long-term (10 years or longer) pairings; they also conducted original research that included 150 people from Long Island, N.Y., whose relationships had lasted an average of more than eight years.
They found that romantic love -- defined as having intensity, engagement and sexual interest -- does exist in long-term relationships. And, they found that the greater the romantic love was, the more satisfied people reported being, whether it was a short-term or long-term relationship.
In the couples from Long Island, 13 percent gave themselves the highest rating possible for romantic love. "On a scale of seven [measures of romantic love], they were all six or seven," said Acevedo.
Dr. Virginia Sadock, director of the program in human sexuality and sex therapy at New York University Langone Medical Center, said that romantic love can definitely exist in long-term relationships, but that it takes work.
"When one first falls in love -- regardless of age -- there's a kind of euphoria. Then you get to know them, and realize they have flaws," she said. "But, if you're in a relationship, even though the euphoria is gone, the joy of being in love is still there."
If you and your partner have let the spark dim in your relationship, Acevedo suggests trying something "novel and challenging" together. Sadock said that you have to be sure to schedule time alone with each other, and she said, you should try to meet each other in different places. "You want your partner to anticipate your arrival and then actually see you coming. In a relationship, you spend a lot of time next to each other, but not much actually looking at each other," she explained.
And, she also suggested keeping your sexual repertoire varied. "Don't do the same things all the time," she said. Finally, she advised, "If you realize that you haven't had sex for awhile, be aware of it, and do something about it."
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more information on sexuality later in life.
SOURCES: Bianca Acevedo, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher, University of California, Santa Barbara; Virginia Sadock, M.D., professor, psychiatry, and director, program in human sexuality and sex therapy, New York University Langone Medical Center, New York City; March 2009, Review in General Psychology