Sprecher (1999)

Longitudinal study on development of love over time


To investigate whether people in close relationships reported increased love over time. The second aim was to study how beliefs about relationships could change.


A self-selected sample of 101 romantic heterosexual student couples was surveyed five times over four years. Each time they completed questionnaires to measure love, commitment, and satisfaction. They were also asked to report changes since previous surveys. Only 41% of the couples were together at the end of the study.


Individuals in intact relationships said they felt an increase in love, commitment, and satisfaction over time but this was not supported by the data. This indicates that happy couples wanted to see increases in positive affect (positive illusions). Individuals in broken relationships were likely to say they felt a decrease in commitment, love, and satisfaction in the time before the break-up. Satisfaction decreased the most in this group. This suggests that people end their relationships because of dissatisfaction rather than the disappearance of love.

The results support the idea of “positive illusions” as beneficial for a relationship.


The study was conducted with a sample of young students in the USA so it may not be possible to generalize the findings. Self-reports may be biased.