The science behind love reveals a complex and important phenomena
“Love is a many splendored-thing”.
When Mark Zuckerburg 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 is responsible for causing sexual arousal.
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, induce feelings of optimism, and spark and maintain our relationships.
But what is love if it’s more than our biology?
What is love? Love is perhaps what 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 rises 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 love to our human nature or scientific phenomenas, 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 love- that time when your partner can do no wrong and everything is perfect, and there’s so much love in the air. This period of time for a couple is defined by intense levels of deep love and physical manifestations.
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, 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 love 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 the 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 relationship by challenging each other. Any change a person undergoes is within their capacity as that person.
Be patient when things are different from your expectations, and try to enjoy every moment possible. If you are feeling lackluster and a little too comfortable, perhaps you and your partner could try a new hobby: go out dancing, travel together, 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.