The science behind love reveals a complex and important phenomena
“Love is a many splendored-thing”.
When Mark Zuckerberg launched the original Facebook, it was not complete until a person’s relationship status was incorporated into user profiles. We strive for love because we derive happiness from it.
Pretty much every song on the radio is a love song, and the journey of life would seem incomplete without a romantic companion. Why is that?
Love is a biological response
Research shows that oxytocin, a powerful hormone in the human body, acts as our natural love potion. Hugging and touching spikes up our oxytocin levels and are responsible for causing sexual arousal and intense feelings.
During orgasms, our brain is flooded with oxytocin. This neurotransmitter is also known to heal wounds through its anti-inflammatory properties. A rise in oxytocin levels can relieve pain, increase self-esteem, improve our well-being, induce feelings of optimism, and spark and maintain our romantic relationships.
But what is love if it’s more than our biology?
What is love? Love is a complex emotion that makes us human. We can act out of selflessness and compassion with the help of love.
When you’re in love, you can feel invincible. The problem arises when sometimes we want more than our partners can give us. Either that or your partner might claim to be your soulmate when you don’t feel exactly the same way.
It seems simple enough when we can reduce the notion of romantic love to our human nature or scientific phenomena, like neurotransmitters wiring us to be attracted to each other. So how can we better explain the process of falling in love and falling out of love?
The honeymoon stage of love
Everyone can relate to the honeymoon stage of loving relationships- that time when your romantic partner can do no wrong, everything is perfect, and there’s so much love in the air. This period of time for a couple is defined by intense longing, deep levels of love, sexual desire and physical attraction.
Functional MRIs have been used to identify several brain regions associated with the feeling of love. For instance, some individuals experiencing passionate love (brought on by pictures or thoughts of their beloved) show greater activation in the caudate nucleus, which is important in learning and memory, and the ventral tegmental area, central to emotional processing. Both areas of the brain tend to be rich in dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and motivation.
It’s interesting that scientifically we can prove that being in a romantic relationship is rewarding. When you’ve just begun falling in love, being next to a person can be all you need. After being an established couple for a longer time, it’s fair to want more than just being next to a person. In fact, knowing anyone should warrant a desire for more trust and more shared experiences.
Being intimate should be rewarding in a growing and developing way. Love should be experienced by two people so that it is mutually respectful and constantly evolving.
Love is important for your development
It seems that this too (the idea of love as learning), can be scientifically backed up.
Researchers have examined how experiencing passionate love can influence brain chemistry. One study revealed that people who had recently found new love had higher levels of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that aids in the development and functioning of neurons, in comparison to people who were single or in long-term relationships.
Is the fading of love inevitable then for people who have gotten used to their partners? That depends.
Some couples are able to sustain their honeymoon period throughout their healthy relationship by challenging each other. Any change a person undergoes is within their capacity as that person. There is no way to practice love. Some days it is not full of positive emotions, but with loving kindness and family members, you can get through it.
Be patient when things are different from your expectations, and try to enjoy every moment possible. If you are feeling lacklustre and a little too comfortable, perhaps you and your partner could try a new hobby: go out dancing, travel together, and make love in different ways.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.