Background: Love is important aspect of life, including to people with learning disabilities both historically and more recently. Participants value the companionship, support and social status associated with a partner. Relationships are considered mechanisms to meet certain needs including feeling loved, company, intimacy and enabling individuals to marry and have children. This article examines the importance of romantic love to people with learning disabilities.
Methods: A hermeneutic phenomenological study, guided by the theory of Van Manen was conducted using interviews with eleven people with learning disabilities examining the importance of romantic love.
Results: The analysis revealed that love was important to them, specifically the companionship and support a loving partner provided. The physical expression of love by a partner was valued highly, especially kissing and cuddling. Most participants had experienced some form of abuse, but it appeared that the love of a partner was reparative and they were able to form satisfying relationships.
Conclusion: Participants’ narratives highlighted the role staff play in supporting them to fulfill their romantic needs. The romantic relationship needs of people with learning disabilities were examined in relation to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy was revised to reflect the value of having a loving relationship to people with learning disabilities and to identify the support they required to facilitate and maintain this.