Intimacy in relationships early on, according to Helen Fisher,Ph.D., is a function of three systems in the reward center of the brain activating, the lust, love, and romance centers, which are governed by androgens, dopamine, and oxytocin.
For those of you who remember your first love, I know you can remember how powerful those hormones were and are.
We could not stand to be apart from our beloved and our beloved would giggle at our bad jokes and poetry, we would talk for hours on the phone, (I know I am dating myself with that one), ect.
There is an evolutionary purpose to the intimacy in romantic love relationships, and that is to make the possibility of progeny greater, and keep the parents close to ensure the child's survival, but romantic love as we know it in those early months is not designed to survive.
And so at some point we either get used to the level of dopamine in our brains, or it goes away, and we wake up next to someone who may be a bit of a stranger now.
At this point couples need to make a decision about renewing, or revitalizing intimacy, or perhaps separating.
There is definitely good news from the researchers in regards to reviving intimacy in relationships though.
Professor Fisher has surveyed couples who have been together for long periods, and found that many of them report that they would marry their partner all over again. She has looked at the brains of those folks in a functional magentic imaging machine (fMRI) and discovered that their brains have all the ear marks of early in love brains, except for the anxiety.
In other words, they have sustained the brain chemistry of romantic love for long periods, moving from excited love to calm love. There is a way to duplicate that calmness, using heart rate variability biofeedback, I believe.
Robert Epstein,Ph.D., has written recently in Scientific American Mind about what it is that folks in arranged marriages, which is actually the preferred method for marriage over most of the planet, what it is they do in India for example, where 95% of marriages last and grow in happiness.
Epstein is issuing us a challenge, and offering suggestions. He says those couples in India practice intimacy exercises, and we ought to also.
His first suggestion, which he uses in his class room, is called soul gazing. He pairs up students and has them look deeply into each other's eyes, not stare, which is a threatening non-verbal behavior, but look.
The reports of his participants are astounding in the increase of closeness that the participants feel after doing some soul gazing.
Can you imagine yourself doing that with your partner for two minutes when intimacy needs a boost, or regularly like an intimacy workout?
Another of the exercises that Epstein suggests is heart rate synchronization.
When I read that suggestion, I was very excited because I have done that with couples using Heartmath, or heart rate variability biofeedback. You truly can get a picture of the heart beat of the relationship using Heartmath, and so can the folks in the relationship. That heart beat is subject to rapid changes in coherence or incoherence based on the thoughts of the participants.
An incoherent heart beat is adrenalin and cortisol based, which is the physiology I have when I am solving a problem, and it is the physiology I have in conflict.
A coherent heart changes the hormonal bath from adrenalin and cortisol to DHEA, the antiaging hormone, and a coherent heart rate variability leads to a calm, affiliative, and cooperative physiology.
Folks learn how fast they can move from incoherence to coherence and back and how intimacy in relationships needs to be attended to on a heart beat by heart beat basis.
The reality is that learning that heart beat by heart beat attentional style is beyond what most of us are going to do, so I like to practice my Heartmath evey five minutes for a few heart beats. In fact, I can feel it happening now, and regular short practices do lead to a majority of my time spent in a coherent hear beat.
Couples can build in time to do this together, using Heartmath on the computer, or practicing while they hold hands as they stroll around the block.
John Gottman,Ph.D., also offers us some ideas about intimacy in relationships.
He has been studying couples for a long time, around 30 years, at his love lab, and has created a workshop for couples to do at home called The Art and Science of Relationship, based on his observations of what it is that the Masters of Marriage do naturally.
I have used his workshop materials with couples and found that they enjoy the exercises, and are often surprised that they need to repeat them on a regular basis.
Intimacy in relationships accept for the romantic love stage requires discipline and attention, and even romantic love can be given a chance to work best if you read the work of Helen Fisher,Ph.D.
She says that we humans fall into roughly four personality types, each governed by a different hormone, and that types should work with compatible types in order to maximize their chance for "chemistry." To find out what type you are, you will have to take Professor Fisher's quiz at the link below.
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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