The science of love has been studied in the past years from multiple angles, starting from the choice of partner (1), stages of love (2), neurochemistry and type of communication (3), to consequences and sustainable therapeutic interventions. (4)
Social epidemiology shows that great friendships, great love relationships between lovers and those between parents and children lead to better health: mental health, as well as physical health, greater resilience, faster recovery from illness, greater longevity, up to even 10 to 15 years longer. So love has a kind of magic; it is capable of doing amazing things.
The identification of the sexual signs of virility and strength in men and the signs of fertility in women represented in the past a sign of biological health, sufficient for the perpetuation of the species, being originally a primitive practical sense. The evolution of culture has modified these signs and a woman’s gorgeous physique is much more attractive than those of a motherly figure (narrow vs. wide hips, outer vs. inner beauty), while a handsome man but with perhaps an awkward personality can be more sexually attractive than a loyal, loving, but somewhat not so prominent as a figure.
Durability of couples is almost a cliche conversation. In modern and postmodern society, partners combine and recombine at a very alert pace and the fertility condition doubles as partners need to conform to society’s beauty standards. Different studies however have brought to light important aspects that drive successful romantic partnerships (https://cameliakrupp.ch/the-relationship-between-personal-values-and-couples-satisfaction-mediated-by-mental-well-being-and-dyadic-coping-mechanisms-under-stress-2/ ), including common family and relationship values and positive dyadic coping mechanisms. The anatomical fit of the genital organs can be a factor of satisfaction, in addition to the psycho-social and cultural compatibility.
But how do we choose our partner? The model by which we choose our partner is always in our childhood. We pick the perfect person to help us work through our early age wounds. Effectively we are drawn to individuals who are reasonable facsimile of the person /people who wounded us in childhood, combining both negative and positive traits of our male and female caretakers. This love script beholds the promise of ultimate love and has a functional role, adaptation to the environment and survival. No matter how hard or happy we believe our childhood was, everyone has psychic wounds that keep us from being happy, fulfilled, and loving adults. However, we can use our adult relationships to heal these childhood scars.
Depending on the relationship with the main caregiver, children develop types of attachment (secure, anxious, avoidant, disorganized) which are then inherited in the romantic adult relationships, through sensitivities such as: heightened needs for attention and approval, fear of abandonment, difficulty dealing with unknown and expectations, the tendency to blame oneself or others, feeling responsible for the happiness of others or that others are responsible for one’s own happiness, acting impulsively to relieve the anxiety of the moment rather than tolerating anxiety and acting thoughtfully.
Once we have found our match, the relationship journey moves from the falling in love to the romantic love stage (1), almost like a state of altered consciousness, filled with states of euphoria, excitement, and ecstasy due to the neuro-chemicals produces and generally fairly short, lasting six months to 2 years. This stage might be significantly shorter or a little longer depending on factors such as geographic distance, previous relationship history, or level of childhood wounding.
Once some level of connection / commitment forms, the partners have potential to grow and heal together; the only problems is, they are unaware of the hidden agenda to heal our wounds and together with the slow fading of the ‘’in love’’ chemistry and become scared when the shift occur. Often this would feel like a transition or negotiation phase or a re-contracting (2), lasting longer or shorter and ending many times in emotional and or physical separation that recreate the hurtful patterns and damage of our original caretaker in one of the 3 ways: parallel relationships (‘’I do my thing, you do yours’’ but there is rarely any connection that occurs), fighting and reconciling (hot and intense conflict and passionate reconciling), ending the relationship (low level conflict, pain, distance and finally one partner reaches threshold and terminates the relationship)
The transition phase is the most difficult phase of any relationship. As the endorphin levels are back to normal, reality becomes clearer and we start to discover all our differences. Once the relationship passes from the surface level of attraction and both partners believe the relationship is worth their time and effort, they might look into working out towards attachment phase (3), a more conscious phase of the relationship.
Harville Hendrix – Ph.D. in psychology and religion, says: “We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship,” “And we must heal in relationship.” This is a challenging space as old defences, believes would have to be surrendered, feeling like a loss of self and allowing new aspects of ourselves to be born. Its a space owned by aspects like: understanding self and the needs of others, healing your own wounds and creating an accurate image of your partner, taking responsibility for communicating needs and desire and becoming intentional about interactions.
In the context of the first dates, the physical attractiveness and appreciation of beauty/virility are mediated by dopamine and norepinephrine (Takefumi, 1998), giving the feeling of euphoria, dizziness and butterflies in the stomach (dopamine, norepinephrine – EM Parker, 1988). Sensations can be of strong heat in the body, attraction, lust specific to romantic entanglements with heart palpitations, knots in the throat, and softened legs also specific to falling in love (noradrenaline, phenylethylamine).
The aspects of the paternal or maternal projections related to different activities or traits of the partners (emotionally unapproachable type, mystery, takes care of me) bring a sense of familiarity just like in the primary environment in which each grew up, making the partners feel more attracted to each other (dopamine, norepinephrine – EM Parker, 1988). Sometimes the mind flies, the thoughts cannot gather, and especially the idea of mysterious relationships (adultery, hidden relationship) brings intense physical and emotional experiences, like in a roller coaster (dopamine, noradrenaline, phenylethylamine – Aron, A., 2005).
Testosterone and estrogen bring lust; dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin create attraction; and oxytocin and vasopressin mediate attachment (Fisher, 2017). Eroticism denotes the secretion of dopamine, oxytocin and sensations similar to those produced by amphetamines. Arousal, sexual arousal (even without attachment) blocks the regions of the brain responsible for critical thinking, self-awareness, the prefrontal cortex being a kind of shameless mute.
As we fall in love, we are exposed to physical, somatic and emotional experiences. The initial sexual attraction turns into romantic attraction, this being like a form of commitment for a certain partner. It is essential for balance and health to satisfy a fundamental emotional need to be loved and accepted. At the core of the responsible adult is the satisfaction of these needs. When the child behaves inappropriately, it means that the emotional tank inside him is empty or has little love. The desire for intimacy and to be loved by someone is the basis of human existence. Even in the new testament it is said that husband and wife become one body.
Dopamine, the molecule of pleasure and anticipation, is one of the initiators of love, along with noradrenaline, adrenaline and testosterone, present in the early stages of falling in love. During the falling in love phase, functional imaging indicates the activation of some brain regions such as the medial insula, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the hippocampus, the nucleus accumbens (NAC), the hypothalamus and the caudate nucleus, simultaneously with deactivations in the prefrontal cortex, temporal lobes, amygdala, temporo-parietal junction (Diamond & Dickenson, 2012).
After this stage, the chemistry behind love changes, there is a shift from future-oriented to present-oriented, here-and-now type neurotransmitters (serotonin, oxytocin, endorphin and endocannabinoids) come into action, which provide pleasure through emotion and sensation. Although dopaminergic circuits can operate simultaneously with here-and-now circuits, they are often antagonistic. In a love relationship, with the passage of time, attachment increases (oxytocin, vasopressin – Debiec, 2007). Interactions take an affective form, caresses and kindness bring peace and calm (oxytocin), hugs become less passionate (reduction of adrenaline, testosterone) and the relationship moves to another stage, that of attachment (Leahy, 2017). Couples have less and less sex, as oxytocin and vasopressin suppress testosterone release (Lieberman and Long, 2019).
During the period of love, chemical substances such as pheromones, dopamine, serotonin are secreted, having a similar effect as amphetamines. (lower intensity but longer duration). Lovers say I’ve lost my mind, everything is pink, when I’m with him/her I feel in the ninth heaven. The pleasure center in the brain is stimulated, and side effects such as loss of appetite, insomnia, increased pulse, an intense feeling of enthusiasm and excitement appear. This stage usually lasts between a year and a half and three years. (Stoleru & all, 2012).
• To better understand relationships, basic scientific research was done. Applied research followed, involving over 40,000 couples, followed over 20 years.
• Their story about their relationship, the quality of their friendship and their intimacy was interviewed and during the interview, physiological measurements were collected: heart rate, blood velocity, skin conductance, respiration, and emotion is recorded second by second in this kind of split-screen arrangement, where, although they are facing each other, they can be coded facial expressions, tone of voice, non-verbal behaviour and verbal behaviour very accurately and reliably. Therapeutic interventions would address:
• love as a voluntary, perfectly conscious and assumed act that requires permanent and continuous “care”
• the dynamics of communication in the first 3 minutes predicts the success of the couple. Relationships are strong when the climate is full of positive interactions, “A relationship is a mutual contract of mutual care”
• The balance of positive and negative emotions has been proven to be the key index of this magic. This ratio of positivity to negativity:
·during conflict in unhappy couples – it was 0.8:1, just slightly more negativity than positivity ·during conflict in stable and happy relationships it was 5:1. There was five times more affection, humour, mutual interest, excitement, connection than hostility, disappointment, anger, negativity.
·reducing the duration of being angry (early repair)
·amplification of positive affect, especially intentionally from the beginning of a conversation.
·modification of negative emotional inertia. Increasing the influence that one partner has on the other in terms of changing negative to positive affect
·Affection, humor and interest in each other are important aspects.
·positive attractor vs. negative attractor. (moving the couple with specific interventions from the area of rabbits under the storm to rabbits on the beach)
The Gottmans’ hypothesis talks about three things: – -Physiological calm. The couples whose heart rates were lower, whose blood flowed less quickly, who didn’t sweat as much, those people actually looked kind of boring, but they had great relationships. They were gentle with each other, not hostile, they soothed each other – a very interesting balance in physiology created by their behaviour. It turns out that when people are calm, they can take in information, listen, be empathetic, have access to a sense of humour. When there is diffuse activation of different parts of the autonomic nervous system, partners in a couple are much more likely to be in attack or defence mode.
– Trust can be reliably and validly measured using the mathematics of game theory. Namely the idea that, mutual trust comes when partners maximize the benefits of both people, not just the benefits of one person or the other. A relationship of mutual trust really leads to intimacy; a relationship of mistrust leads to loneliness.
– Commitment. When the relationship is in a turning point:
· Inner expression of appreciation and gratitude for what you have; the turning point leads to loyalty (commitment leads to loyalty).
· Making negative comparisons between your partner and real or imaginary alternatives. The turning point leads to betrayal and dissolution.
Any therapeutic intervention would reasonably take into account the story of the couple, the falling in love and other aspects such as physiological indicators, appearance of conflict, emotions and perceptions behind, as well as unmet attachment needs and safety in the couple.
Bibliography for the chemistry of love and therapeutical interventions:
Bibliography for neurotransmitters
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