Biology of Love



3 Months for the Price of 1

Helen Fisher, Ph.D. and the Biology of Love



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I love it, the biology of love starts in the brain.

However,this research into the biology of love, involving hormones, neurotransmitters and fMRI analysis of brains has not made my marriage counseling any easier.

Some of my clients are so embedded in their resentments that they are not in the least interested in understanding the biological road map of love, a road map that makes it easier for me as I think about my marriage.

Now I have a clearer understanding of why my wife like touch so much. Both of us get a jolt of oxytocin when we touch, which is the hormone/neurotransmitter associated with the feeling of contentment.

And I am also more aware of why John Gottman, Ph.D. speaks to why his Masters of Marriage stay together and still more or less like each other, after decades of marriage.

I remember beginning my study of his video course, The Art and Science of Love, and being taken aback by his statement that the Masters of Marriage are the folks who after many years together are the couples who "more or less like one another and want to stay together".

Doesn't sound all that inspiring, right?

Turns out that biologically, that is what we are supposed to have happen, that we are content, and want to stay together.

In light of current biological research, it seems that the phrase "madly in love" is not merely a metaphor. There is ample evidence to suggest that falling in love is physiologically similar to mental illness. Disorders like OCD are associated with an imbalance of serotonin, and when studied, researchers discovered that both obsessives and lovers had serotonin levels 40% below normal.

So why is it that we often recover from the illness of love? Biologically speaking, the reasons romantic love fades may be found in the way our brains respond to the surge and pulse of dopamine that accompanies passions and gets us high. In the right proportions, dopamine creates intense energy, exhilaration, and focused attention, which is why, when you are newly in love, you can stay up all night, hike a mountain faster, and push the limits of your skills. Love makes you bold and bright and take risks you wouldn't normally take.

If this chemically altered state of love similar to mental illness were to continue, psychological damage could result. Never mind the practical implications: falling behind at work, not getting enough sleep, losing track of time... Seriously, though, this phase of love is not physiologically meant to last.

It does appear, however, that couples in happy long term relationships have moved from a dopamine-drenched state of romantic love to a quiet oxytocin-induced attachment. Oxytocin is the peptide hormone that promotes a feeling of bonding and connection and is released during breastfeeding, hugs, and orgasm. Physiologically speaking, couples that are successful in finding ways to stimulate oxytocin release in each other are more likely to happily stay together.

So, what can we do to stimulate the release of oxytocin, and thereby stay connected and happy with our partners?

1. Hug each other often!

2. Look at each other when you're talking or being intimate.

3. Go on adventures together, like visiting new places, riding roller coasters, exercising together, or skydiving.

4. Laugh together.

5. Give each other regular massages (any body part will do).

6. Whenever tension occurs, stop before it escalates into anger. Physically connect with one another (hold hands, hug, etc.), breathe together for a few minutes, then talk.

... Dr Young and his colleagues suggest this idea in an article published last month in the Journal of Comparative Neurology. They argue that prairie voles become addicted to each other through a process of sexual imprinting mediated by odour. Furthermore, they suggest that the reward mechanism involved in this addiction has probably evolved in a similar way in other monogamous animals, humans included, to regulate pair-bonding in them as well.

... a relatively small area of the human brain is active in love, compared with that involved in, say, ordinary friendship. ... The second surprise was that the brain areas active in love are different from the areas activated in other emotional states, such as fear and anger. Parts of the brain that are love-bitten include the one responsible for gut feelings, and the ones which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snorting coke.

... Dr Young and his colleagues suggest this idea in an article published last month in the Journal of Comparative Neurology. They argue that prairie voles become addicted to each other through a process of sexual imprinting mediated by odour. Furthermore, they suggest that the reward mechanism involved in this addiction has probably evolved in a similar way in other monogamous animals, humans included, to regulate pair-bonding in them as well.

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Have a question and want to talk with a therapist? Call 815-316-2621 for Julie Logan, LCSW, RN. 7121 Windsor Lake Parkway, Loves Park, Illinois 61111 jlogan7264@myway.com

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