In The Chemistry of Love Itself (I) we came to an understanding that our brains are wired to find love, to connect, to fall, to commit, and to keep love alive, and found that there are many factors that go into the chemistry behind attraction and romantic love, what makes us fall in love, and how an outside force can have such huge effect on us.
How does the Chemistry of love itself affect our relationships?
Have you ever wondered why you always seem to say the wrong things around your crush, and have all those clumsy, somewhat embarrassing moments??
Changes in dopamine and related chemicals cause other familiar ‘side effects’ associated with falling in love. There’s the inability to sleep when your mind stays awake, replaying moments of your time together, or of the way he or she looked at you, or of how great your crush simply is. There’s the nervous sweating when you are around him or her, coupled with the ‘butterflies in your belly’ syndrome, increased heart rate, euphoria, and anxiety all dripping from Cupid’s Arrow.
Unfortunately though, just when we need it most, when we’re attracted to a person, our brain tends to shut down the areas responsible for “critical thinking, self-awareness, and rational thinking.” This process is also responsible for the “love is blind” phenomena, where we fail to see the flaws or shortcomings in our new partner. We fail to see how ‘not well’ the relationship is for us–although maybe this side effect is a good thing during those precarious early stages of romance.
Oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” is also important during these later stages of romance. Its effects largely have to do with bonding and attachment, also acting as an antidepressant, thereby creating a sense of security and trust. As it is widely known for its role in maternal-infant bonding, and is released during both childbirth and breastfeeding, in addition to that, oxytocin is also released during any type of skin-to-skin contact, which is from holding hands to having sex.
In other words, physical touch actually heightens feelings of attachment to a person. I found that there are many scientists who have proposed that it is why “casual sex” often tends to not be so casual. No matter our intentions before a hook-up, with each physical encounter, biology is set in motion and Oxytocin is released, which bonds us to our partner. Dopamine levels are spiked and our minds associate the hook-up, with falling in love.
It is a mad force all caught up in one person’s brain to deal with. It is amazing how these chemicals work for us to get the most important thing our souls need. How they make us.
What happens once we’ve been in a relationship for a while?
How do we keep love alive? After all, cortisol and serotonin levels return to normal; is it even possible to still have that giddy feeling of new love? The good news is, it is!
Parts of the brain that light up when couples in the pangs of early romance see their romantic partners are the same as those that light up when couples who have been together for decades see their partners. In other words, love can definitely last.
One tip for keeping love alive involves what we know about dopamine. Dopamine release is triggered by novelty and unfamiliarity. Consider a date that involves something you and your partner have never done before. Going to a new restaurant can help rekindle the romance, but it is no news anymore that doing something more exciting together is especially effective. This is because we tend to ascribe the effects of excitement, such as increased heart rates and giddiness; to the person we are doing the activity with, not the activity itself.
In addition to dopamine, we now know that oxytocin bonds us to our partners and deepens our feelings of attachment. So how do we raise our levels of oxytocin?
It’s simple, we touch.
Physical touch such as holding hands, cuddling, and kissing, all increase our attachment to our partner through the effects of oxytocin. If you’re feeling distant from your partner, the simple solution may be to get just closer to him or her. Stay in touch.
My search for romance is as natural as my need to eat or sleep; I’ve embraced that as a Libra.
Once we make a connection with someone, the chemical brew including dopamine surges and serotonin depletion creates the exhilarating and awkward madness of new love, and as the relationship progresses, oxytocin steps in to calm things down with secure attachment and trust.
Who doesn’t want to have all that? Who doesn’t want to feel all that?? It’s amazing!
The next time your friends complain that you talk too much about your new crush, tell them it’s not your fault; it’s the Chemistry in our biology!