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Your Brain After 20 Years of Marriage

By Heather Turgeon |

Brain development and marriage

Marriage and the brain

Are you still madly in love with your spouse?

If you feel tingly, butterflies-in-your-stomach, head-over-heels for your spouse even after years of being together, your brain may look different than those of couples who feel more of the comfortable-companion and life-partner kind of love — the “cozy pair of slippers” love that sometimes develops when people have known each other for years.

Researchers reported last month in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience on fMRI scan findings that show some couples’ brains resemble the brains of newly in-love partners. Here’s why:

Studies have already shown that lovebirds’ brains show characteristic patterns of activity when they meet and fall in love: the dopamine-rich reward centers of the brain (akin to those activated in addiction) are lit up.

For the couples in the study who reported to be madly in love after 20 years, the same regions were active when they were scanned while looking at a picture of their sweetheart. They reported craving their partner’s affection and company, and the scans backed that.

Meanwhile, when those people looked at pictures of other family members or friends, their brains showed signals in areas important for bonding, but not for passionate love.

So comfort, routine, security but no fire — it’s not the eventuality for all couples. And as Valentine’s Day comes up, it’s important to remember that prioritizing your romantic relationship, even when you have kids, is key to long-term happiness. Not just once a year, but throughout the year, and for decades to come.

Image: flickr

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About Heather Turgeon

heatherturgeon

Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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