Infatuation vs love? Understanding the neurology of infatuation using Helen Fisher's research might just offer some choices in the course of a potentially life changing experience. And looking at recent research about love by Robert Epstein,Ph.D. and John Gottman,Ph.D., I think there is a great deal of hope for couples to deepen and enrich their experience of love. Maybe infatuation is brain based, and love is heart based?
Can infatuation be be described as a function of the human brain? Yes, thanks to Helen Fisher,Ph.D. who has made some very practical discoveries about the brain in its romantic love stage, and she has offered us some science in regards to building a solid love.
(To build that solid love, though, you will have to find your compatible personality type).
Fisher says that romantic love is the function of activating up to three parts of the reward system in the human brain.
How does she know that? Well, 30 years of experience, and fMRI or functional magnetic resonance imaging of just 'in-love' brains, which provide real time pictures of what happens in our brains when we observe a picture of our beloved.
Fisher says that three parts of the brain are activated, and each part is associated with a powerful hormone or neurotransmitter, which drive the behaviors we see when we are in love at first sight.
(And we can activate those three reward systems in as little as three minutes. Life can change fast can't it)?
According to Helen Fisher,Ph.D.;
"Humans have evolved three different brain systems to encourage mating: sex drive (lust), feelings of attachment (trust), and romance (being in love). Each of these systems plays a role in desire, and scientists are now beginning to pinpoint the bodily chemicals that trigger each.
Lust: Sex drive is associated with a class of hormones called androgens, particularly testosterone (yes, women produce it, too). Making love can also create the same effect. Studies have suggested that sex raises testosterone levels, so the more sex you have, the more sex you desire.
Trust: Feelings of trust and attachment are fostered by the chemical oxytocin. In a study conducted at the University of Zurich, couples who used a nasal spray containing oxytocin before discussing an ongoing marital conflict were more likely to engage in friendly, positive communication than those who didn't take a whiff. You can stimulate oxytocin naturally with touch. Hold hands while you watch TV, trade massages, or sleep in each other's arms.
Love: The third chemical that drives relationships is dopamine, a key player in the brain's pleasure center that's been found to promote romantic love. Research shows that novelty—taking risks or trying something new—can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain. I'm not just talking about novelty in the bedroom (although that would be a good start). You can get the same effect from sampling a new type of cuisine together or riding the roller coaster at an amusement park."
Fisher says that romantic love is designed by evolution to get us together and keep us together long enough for there to be a propagation of the species, which usually means up to three years, although as a kid, I remember times when I would be going steady with Kathy of Friday, come to school on Monday, and find out that she was now going steady with DuWayne, so the evolutionary path is not without its rapid detours.
Actually, the intensity of romantic love, or infatuation, wears off, and at that point we need to begin to make choices about growing and sustaining love.
Fisher's 30 years of experience and research have led her to conclude that we humans are of four basic personality types, and that we have a better chance for building and sustaining love if we match up with a compatible type.
Her work can be experienced in this regard at Chemistry.com, where Fisher is the Chief Scientific Officer.
Chemistry.com uses Fisher's research to provide you matches with whom you can have the 'ol black magic' with a compatible personality type.
To check out Chemistry.com, click below.
Now that Helen Fisher,Ph.D. has illuminated infatuation or romantic love, let's talk about a couple of models for building and sustaining love.
John Gottman, Ph.D. has been studying couples of 30 years and has teased out a number of intimacy building things that the folks he calls the Masters of Marriage do to sustain love.
I have used a number of the Gottman exercises with my domestic violence clients over the years, and I have seen folks who were very upset about a current situation move to fondness as they discussed the very first Gottman Exercise in his "The Art and Science of Love" home workshop. I have also frequently discussed the Gottman material on flooding and what happens in the body when we flood and the antidote to flooding.
Robert Epstein, Ph.D. is provoking us these days with a challenge in regards to the success rate of arranged marriages, where couples who have met maybe once prior to their marriage, stay together 95% of the time when our western marriages fail 50% of the time, even with the help of the Fairy Godmother.
Epstein says that those marriages, arranged with an eye to compatibility (shades of Fisher?), are successful, even though divorce is an option, because the couples engage in intimacy building exercises, and Epstein says we ought to do the same. Liking and loving can grow. Don't have to have the overwhelming infatuation to grow love?
No, and Epstein prescribes a number of exercises like soul gazing, where a couple sit comfortably close and look into each others eyes for a couple of minutes.
Epstein does this in his college classroom and the students participating report an increase in closeness.
Epstein prescribes another exercise, where the participants work to synchronize heart beats, and I have done the very same thing with a heart rate variability biofeedback program called Heartmath.
When couples learn that they can manage the time between their own heart beats, and that heart rate variabilty coherence feels good, is very healthy, it becomes easy to ask them to get their own heart beat coherent and then hold hands and work on the heart beat of the relationship.
I have actually hooked couples up to the computer, and done this with them, and they see how quickly any change in thinking by either participant impacts the heart beat of the relationship, even when they are sitting quietly.
The result is that the couple is much more open to thinking about their relationship as happening heart beat by heart beat.
A relationship attended to this way grows in heart intelligence, which is affiliative and cooperative.
So moving infatuation to love scientifically would require checking out Fisher's personality types and practicing the intimacy building exercises that the Gottman's and Epstein prescribe while doing your Heartmath.
It is not as hard as it sounds, guys, and good luck.
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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