washingtonpost.com
Health benefits of falling and staying in love

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.,Elaine Aron, Ph.D.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 11:45 AM

Arthur and Elaine Aron answer your questions on the science of love and relationships.

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Can functional MRIs show if you're in love?: Can a functional MRI of the brain show if you're in love?

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.: However: (a) for any individual case, it might not show up, (b) if one was tense about the procedure one might be much less likely to show the result, and (c) if one wanted to look like they were in love to someone, one could think about a different person or something else highly desirable when doing the task and the scan might look like they were in love with the target person.

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Are there actual health benefits or is this a myth?: Married people weigh more and exercise less than single people. In studies, always-single people are found to be as healthy as married people. It's the divorced people that are often unhealthy. Married men have smaller social networks than single men, which has a negative impact on survival. So why does society so enjoy perpetuating this myth that married people are healthier?

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: They make themselves less visible to us, but they are there.

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Is the opposite true?: Are there points when being together becomes too stressful that there becomes a health risk to staying together?

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: If the other person sees it as all your fault and refuses to look at his or her role in the problem, well... not much hope for change there.

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washington DC: Is it falling in love with someone special or just anyone? It seems some people are so desperate it could be a pet or a pet rock, just about anything or anyone.

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.: We also know that certain people are more likely to fall in love in general, particularly those who have an insecure childhood (especially having had a mother who was inconsitent in being available); also those who experience emotions especially intensely, such as those who are highly sensitive (based on my wife's research on the highly senstivie person).

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Coincidental versus causal: Do we have causal evidence that being in a happy marriage is good for your health? That is, it may just be that healthy people tend to also be in happy marriages, and there's another cause for both events, such as an optimistic personality.If that's the case, then we shouldn't all run out to get married or be in love just to be healthy. As you know, correlation does not imply causation.Fortunately, being in love is it's own reward.

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: Want to volunteer?

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Can love truly stand the test of time?: You hear about couples staying in love for years, decades, even for a lifetime... but as of late, that's become more rare -- with divorces and 'hooking up' becoming more common. With the changing of the times, is it still 'realistic' to believe that romantic love truly does endure?

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.: but from the data we have, it certianly seems likely that it occurs and is possible for many people to experience.

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Loving a man who isn't my husband: I loved an older man for years with all my heart, he isn't my husband... It was never sexual, but the gender spark between his male mind & my female mind was palpable always. Is this ok? Should I only have a deep love & gender-based spark for one man, my husband? Help...

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: Carl Jung said about situations like this, "It's a sin if you do and a sin if you don't."

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falling in love: Is falling in love purely hormonal/biological or is there also a "logical" kind of love?

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.: Consdier eating--our desire for food (and even for partiuclar kinds of foods) is biological, but as humans we have diets, restaurants, gourmet food, etc., etc. Of course you would then be going against the cultural norms, which can be a very high price in terms of delaig with your partner, extended family, and everyone esle aroudn you (as well as what you were raised to believe and feel--which is not easily overcome).

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Mixed Orientation Marriage - The Last Taboo: Found out about 8 months ago hubby is into MEN. Seriously into men. Watches tons and tons of YouTube videos at home, and God only knows what with his iPhone. Has refused sex with me for ages... no, I'm not fat, repulsive, etc. and no, I have not confronted him. He has a very bad temper and is supremely homophobic. Why, other than financial reasons, would a woman choose to stay in such a relationship? A few actually do. I don't understand it. I'm leaving when our daughter turns 18 (14 months). Can you discuss mixed orientation marriage, and WHY so few counselors/therapists are trained in it?

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.: But if the life situation of leaving seems even worse than what you have, you stay.

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health benefits: What about people who don't want to commit? Is it possible to be afraid of falling in love?

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: But as I say, no decision, wait and see, is still a decision.

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"working on yourself " vs. "getting out there": Some people have internal work to do in order to be their healthiest and the best partner they can be. However, especially for women, the clock is ticking. At what point should a person working on their health (physical, emotional, and otherwise) also make efforts to fall in love? If a person waits until they are perfect, they will die without having paired up.

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: What could be more attractive, really?

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What is love, anyway?: What is love, anyway? I am a newlywed. My husband and I have been together for about seven years, and things are definitely not as . . . intense . . . as they were when we first met. But somehow, they're better. I feel happy; secure. This sense of well being permeates the deepest parts of my whole life.Is love the thing that causes me to get up an extra half-hour early each morning to pack our lunches for work? I don't know, but we eat healthy meals because of it. Sometimes I'd rather have the sleep. But it's a team effort. We both do things to make things better for the other person--and for both of us.Would I be happy and well as a single person? Yes. Would I trade the life that I have? Not for anything.

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.: There is also what is called companionate love, the strong warm bond between two people that can grow over time. You can show excitement for every success from a big promotion at work, to the smallest nice thing, such as your partner finding something he or she has been searching around the house for, for 20 minutes and finaly locates.

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Falling in love is awful: The pheromone rush, the overwhelming emotions - I hate it! That might have something to do with my being a highly sensitive person though (great book!). I am a very emotionally healthy person, but relationships have just never been my thing. Since I've never wanted to have children and I don't have the same need for companioinship that most people do, there's never been any reason for me to get married and every long-term relationship I've been in has resulted in me becoming physically ill from the stress. Once I was out of the relationship, the health problems disappeared. So I remain happily single!

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: Just a thought.

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Long Distance Love: Any studies on the effects of long-distance relationships vs. normal "in the area" love?

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.:

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falling and staying in love...: People fall in love several times during the course of their life time - hence second and third marriages... is being in love in a marriage vs being in like or lust or financial need the exception or the rule ? What are the numbers on that?

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.:

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Staying in love: My husband used to be be enlisted and would be deployed often. Now that he's back at home, I want to spend as much time as I can with him, but am afraid I'm being too clingy. How can I tell? What is a good boundary to set?

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: In that case, you might want to take this to a therapist trained in psychodynamic therapy (not cognitive behavioral) to get a final opinion, and maybe work on it there.

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Everyone is the wrong person: I've seen a fair bit lately that suggests that "we all marry the wrong person" -- that that initial "click" with someone only lasts for so long and after that, really doing a relationship is serious work and everyone doubts.I wonder about that not because I take issue with the "it's serious work" part, but because, well, the woman I am with now I'm with because We Clicked. I don't even know how to describe it. People around us remark constantly on how well suited for one another we are -- and both of us are oddballs that most people don't quite get, nice as most folks are. People are struck by it, and so are we -- constantly, even though I'd say the dancing-on-air part is fading.So what's that mean? Are she and I evidence for the theory that clicking happns, or are we in for a time when we suddenly go from soul-twins to strangers, grieving for the way it was?

Arthur Aron, Ph.D.: But work to keep it alive too.

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Pheromones vs. companionate: I'm trying to figure out what I'm in right now. My past experiences with the passionate, pheromone-rush feeling have usually turned out to be disasters (possibly because they were with intense people by nature?). I've spent a lot of time single and was mostly happy, if a little lonely. Now I find myself in a good relationship that is drama-free and, I think, more of the companionate variety -- not that there is no attraction, it's just that the intense heat and butterflies aren't there. If I've had those feelings before (though for the wrong people), is it a bad sign that I've apparently skipped them entirely in this relationship?

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.: attraction, but if the Wise Ones have done their job right, your love will grow and grow with time.

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