When is the beginning of a relationship?
Well, Helen Fisher,Ph.D., has studied and written about romantic relationships for a long time, and her model brings some clarity to a process that is highly emotional for those of us in the throes of beginning of relationship.
If your brain happens to be of the male persuasion, beginning or relationship is very definitely linked to your vision. You begin the mating dance chemically, inside your brain, when a stream photons are processed in the visual cortex, and you formulate an interpretation of that image somewhere over near another part of your brain called Broca's area that has words in it like, "She looks pretty."
At that second the chemistry in your brain changes, and the chemistry in your body follows suit, all within perhaps 1/18th second.
Fisher says that change inside us guys (the process for a brain of the female persuasion is a bit different) involves the activation of three parts of the reward system, the lust part, the trust part, and the romance or being in love part, and we can activate those parts very rapidly, perhaps four times as fast as I can blink my eyes.
I would argue that we could say relationship has begun right then, and very much so if there is a courting behavior following the change in brain chemistry.
However, this particular relationship may be very short lived if the courting behavior is not responded to or is rejected.
Fisher goes on to talk about how folks size up potential mates in one second in terms of looks, and then move the remainder of the check list, which will include voice.
From Professor Fisher;
"Once again, you respond in seconds. Women typically regard rapid talkers as more educated and men with full, deep voices as better-looking than they are. Next: his words. We like people who use the same kinds of words we use. We are also drawn to those who have a similar degree of intelligence, share our religious and social values, and come from the same economic background—and we quickly determine these attributes from a man's words (not to mention how he dresses and wears his hair, whether he's carrying a briefcase or a soccer ball, and if he's sporting a gold watch or a tattoo)."
That process can take all of three minutes, so beginning of relationship can happen fast.
However not all romantic or loving relationships begin based on just brain chemistry. Many long lasting relationships can grow out of a friendship or work relationship, for example.
No matter how or when relationships begin, when we make the words in our brains that sound like, "I love you," brains and lives change.
But that beginning of relationship chemistry is only designed to keep us together for enough time to get progeny begun, and survival of the child ensured.
At some point romantic love changes or even ends, and the participants return to a more normal brain chemistry, and have to decide about dirty laundry and dishes and mortgages or starting all over again with someone else.
And this may be the true beginning of relationship, where a couple trades the dopamine fire works for the slow moving seemingly placid but always changing slow river of satisfaction.
This particular part of the relationship takes attention though, and Professor Fisher offers us an interesting model for making sure that the transition here is smooth.
Based on her research, she says that we humans fall into four personality types, each governed by a different hormone or neurotransmitter, and our transition from romantic love to mature love is made more possible if we begin with a compatible mate chemistry wise.
In order to do discover your personality type, you take a quiz at the Chemistry.com site, and if you want to meet a series of compatible chemical types, you join up at Chemistry.com.
There are a couple of other researchers whose work I believe to be very good for this building intimacy and a deep rich love stage of relationship.
They are John Gottman,Ph.D. and Robert Epstein,Ph.D.
I first came across Dr. Gottman's work when I looked at the book he wrote with Neil Jacobson,Ph.D. about domestic violence. I have been a domestic violence psychoeducator in Illinois for awhile, and have seen the results of power and control relationships for children, so when a friend in the business recommended his workshop The Art and Science of Love, I took a look at it, and found some great ideas to show my court ordered perpatrators, who are mostly male.
Dr. Gottman has put together a list of exercises and videos for couples to do together, and the sense I get of his work, especially as it is expressed in his ideas about how to negotiate a gridlocked problem is that couple are going to need to utilize the skills often. In other words, intimacy doesn't arrive with a potion or magic wand, and the Fairy Godmother does not bring "happy-ever-after"
Intimacy is earned with practice.
Another expert whose recent work has intrigued me is Robert Epstein,Ph.D., who wonders what those couples in India do that makes arranged marriages such a success, when our Disney based model of Prince Charming and Cinderella fails 50% of the time.
He says, like Gottman, that those couples work on intimacy,doing exercises like soul gazing and heart rate synchronization regularly.
So it would appear that relationships have many beginnings, and opportunities.
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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