Why do we Fall in Love?

inlove

Why do we Fall in Love?

Have you ever wondered how much of love is biology and how much is psychology? If you’ve ever wondered if chemistry just happens or can be created, if love at first sight is real and all other things about love, you are living in a wondrous time. Why do we fall in love? Science has some answers. There are three different systems in the brain, that when brought together spell the emotional and biological phenomenon we call love. First is the sex drive created to ensure the perpetuation of our species. The feeling of romantic love helps you focus on one person making sure you don’t waste any time or energy. The last part is the comfort and security you feel when with a long term partner, giving you time to raise children together.

Love feels fantastic because the pleasure centers of the brain are activated when we fall for someone. Dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel euphoric, enthralled, and sleepless mirrors other experiences, such as being high on cocaine. Love at first sight does occur, though more to men than to women. Men are visual creatures. Whereas women fall in love in terms of who a person is, their charm, status or power rather than their physicality. Love at first sight may be an evolutionary advantage, producing offspring in a short amount of time rather than the long, drawn out process we go through today with society as our backdrop.

Timing of course is just as important in falling in love as it is with everything else in life. If you’re too busy with work or focusing on your responsibilities you may not notice the perfect person for you, when they’re just inches away. But with a little free time and the right mindset, a sort of openness, not necessarily looking for it, love can hit you like a lightning bolt. If you want someone to fall in love with you, do exciting things together with them. This releases dopamine and norepinephrine into the brain, mimicking romantic love. There is a difference between love and lust. You can feel love for one person. But lust dissipates after sex. And you can feel attracted to someone without being compatible, or jealous if they are into someone else.

How do you keep the spark alive? By trying new and exciting things together, and doing the things you did when you were first dating. Perhaps someday all of our questions on love will be explained. Will that kill the romance? Or will it give us a finer appreciation of the nuances of love? Only time and intrepid scientists will give us the answers. For more on this topic read, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher.

Can a Fight Reignite your Sex Life?

Couple Lying In Bed

Can a Fight Reignite your Sex Life?

It’s a very old idea. Couples fight. All couples do. But then the energy they release, once they make up, leads to great “makeup sex.” But is it true? Is this a real phenomenon or is it all in our heads? New research is trying to put this question to bed. The first problem we must recognize is, after the honeymoon phase–when young couples are ravenous for one another, is over, couples’ sex lives can often become bland and routine. Some people call it simply “marital sex.” Disagreements can get in the way, fights about finances, raising the children and other concerns, and these issues follow the couple into the bedroom, sucking the life out of it. Most couples take fighting as just part of the routine. But certain fights or kinds of fighting can become baggage, getting in the way of sexual and emotional intimacy. What couples need to do, instead of being disconnected to one another, blowing up and having the occasional loving connection, is to think of their romantic life as distanced and separate altogether from their everyday life. A recent study of infidelity site Ashley Madison found that women go to the site to get sexual excitement, while still keeping their relationship intact. So learn how to compartmentalize the two worlds. Leave the fights at the bedroom door, and instead embrace the things that excite you both.

A lot of couples think they are just going to maintain a certain posture for the rest of their time together, if they are married, for the rest of their lives. A “this is as good as it gets” attitude resides. You don’t have to settle for a mediocre relationship. Psychological damage builds up as couples move along and disagreements and conflict inevitably arise. This has a direct influence over our sexual and emotional intimacy within our relationship. The emotional and physical state our body is in, “fight or flight,” is created with adrenaline. This is the absolute opposite of the status our body maintains when it is time to make love. When we are ready to make amore, oxytocin—the love neurotransmitter, and dopamine are released, the body relaxes and enters a state of “calm and cuddle.” The two states cannot coexist. It is either one or the other. The first thing you can do is establish how you fight. Do you take part in the “demand and withdraw” pattern? This is when a person shoves criticisms and complaints on their mate, hoping that the person will change. When these pile up, the person can’t leave them at the bedroom door, and sexual intimacy is lost. Usually as couples get older, this pattern worsens.  Texas Christian University found that this is “…the most common pattern of conflict in marriage or any committed established romantic relationship.”

One study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that middle-aged fighting increased the risk of death from all causes significantly. Another study, out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that those couples who fought more often were more susceptible to depression. Those who had constant stress from their relationship were also more likely to get depressed. Nothing saps your love life like depression, be it yours or your partner’s. Some people say that the make-up sex is the best part of their relationship. Really, it’s just that you’ve made up and now the resurgence of those good feelings, the ones that should generally inhabit your relationship, has renewed emotional and sexual intimacy. So it isn’t the fighting itself, it’s being loving again that sparks sexual intimacy. Now one might ask what a couple can do to make things heat up again in the bedroom. John Gottman, a pioneering psychologist who spent his career studying couples, has shown through his research that loving kindness and generosity toward one another can increase intimacy, and give partners a fondness and love for each other, which can manifest itself into great physical and sexual intimacy. One recent study showed that the stronger the emotional intimacy between a couple, the better their sex life. Find ways to sustain intimacy and you can sustain your sex life. For ways to do that pick up a copy of, Emotional Intimacy 101: The Surefire Way to Great Romantic Relationships by Pierre F. Steenberg.

Do You Suffer from Love Addiction?

love-addiction

Do You Suffer from Love Addiction?

Everyone’s seen at least one couple like this. Where the woman is gorgeous, sweet and has a startling career or is packing a tremendous IQ. But she’s engaged to a dimwitted, repugnant loser. What on earth is she doing with him?! Or the guy who has everything going for him and he dates a woman who is coarse, vain, boorish and obtuse. What’s going on here? They may be love addicts, all hopped up on intimacy. They would rather be with someone substandard than be all alone. Rutgers University biological anthropologist Helen Fisher says love comes on in our brain like an amphetamine, followed by a dazzling opiate, all of which our own systems create. There is scientific data backing her up. A recent study of heartbroken lovers found shocking results. They had their brains scanned under an FMRI and found that a painful breakup mimicked quitting a cocaine addiction. That’s how powerful love is, and how the absence of it can feel. And of course, just like anything some people get addicted to it.  For those who truly suffer love addiction, generally one or both parents were emotionally unavailable. Here the person is perpetually trying to win the love they missed out on in childhood.

Tennessee detox and recovery clinic “The Ranch” specializes in all kinds of addictions, including sex addiction, emotional co-dependency and intimacy disorders. Psychologists there say that love addicts come in many different hues. Love addiction is defined as a compulsive need toward romance, relationships and sex that is harmful to both the addict and his or her partner. According to Ranch psychologists, “Although it may sound less damaging than other addictions, it shares many similarities.” Here love is a façade. The person goes and creates situations filled with drama as an entertainment and distraction. Only their lover can make their life meaningful, they say. Without their partner they don’t want to live. At least, until another one comes along. For women in their 40’s, a biochemical reason may be at fault. Hormones trick women of a certain age into thinking they are so in love, far more so than usual, in order to receive a fresh course of genes before the last of the eggs are gone, signaling the onset of menopause.

There are different kinds of behaviors a love addict can get involved with. Some get too attached. Then they undermine the relationship themselves causing it to end, so that they can get another partner and feel that rush of love beginning anew, once again. Others have abandonment issues. They will hold onto a bad relationship no matter the cost. There are those who are manipulative and controlling, others clingy and desperate. Sometimes love addicts target those who avoid intimacy, forming a sort of strange codependency, a mechanism where the relationship becomes a constant skirmish filled with pain and pleasure, in a war without end. Picture a tornado of constant bickering intermingled with makeup sex. But is that really a great love worth fighting for as such addicts claim? For most of us it is a recipe for a long-term headache but a relationship which won’t last. Besides dopamine—the reward neurochemical released in the brain, oxytocin is also present. This is the bonding biochemical which initiates the “calm and cuddle” response. This, evolutionary anthropologists’ believe, is essential to the creation and raising of children.  In men, a similar neurotransmitter is present called vasopressin. So take a look at your relationship, or the one you just walked away from, to see if you’ve been laid victim to a biochemical dependency, if in fact you are as the Huey Lewis song claims “Addicted to Love.” If you believe you may actually have a problem pick up a copy of, Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love by Pia Mellody and Andrea Wells Miller.

Overcoming the Winter Relationship Drain

COUPLE-IN-LOVE-WINTER

Overcoming the Winter Relationship Drain

In the barren landscape of this cruel season, your heart may feel as bitter as it is outside. Unfortunately for many, especially those who would rather hibernate, it’s often hard to keep a relationship vibrant during this time of year. Then there are bleak statistics like the fact that couples are more likely to split over the holidays and St. Valentine’s Day. The season can put extra pressure on a couple, particularly pertinent if they aren’t getting along to begin with. Psychologist Seth Meyers, PhD, says we tend to be moodier in the winter months, and our energy level is lower. These also take their toll on our love life.

HERE ARE SOME POTENTIAL RELATIONSHIP OBSTACLES AND HOW TO GET PAST THEM:

  • Both men and women feel cooped up during the cooler months, and this adds to our irritability. The lack of sunlight also robs us of serotonin—the happiness neurotransmitter in our brains. One way to combat this is to bundle up and go outside. Even if it’s just for a few minutes at lunchtime, a little sunlight can get the serotonin flowing, and make you your own fun-to-be-with self again.
  • Another problem is that we often try to feed this lack of serotonin with temporary fixes such as simple carbs, sugar or alcohol. These can make you feel better short-term, but when you crash later on you feel worse. This is when we find ourselves in a screaming match with our partner. Being “hangry” is no laughing matter. Nutritional psychologist Julia Ross suggests high protein snacks instead. Eggs, cottage cheese, fish, a handful of nuts or some natural peanut butter on a slice of whole wheat are all good options. These will give you a long-term boost while avoiding the blood-sugar roller coaster other foods put you through.
  • Winter is a time when some put on their thick, puffy socks, pajamas, swaddle themselves in blankets and settle down to a TV binge. This is not exactly the sexiest scenario. But a lack of sex in the winter can also spell a lack of connection. Exercising together can boost mood enhancing biochemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Why not hit the gym?
  • Also, work a little harder to keep the spark alive. Spend some time with the TV off. Play some nice music, light candles and get in the mood. Couple time is always appreciated. It makes your cuddling on the couch that much cozier. And cuddling releases oxytocin, the bonding neurochemical.
  • If you haven’t been intimate in a couple of weeks why not initiate a romantic setting and see how your partner responds? Skin gets dry in the winter. Offer to rub some lotion on your sweetie, and while you are at it give them a nice massage. Pick up their favorite dessert and feed it to them over hot cocoa or warm apple cider. Mulled wine and some fun conversation could work. Sure it may be a struggle, but get up and go out once in a while. A little bistro, live jazz, open mic night at your local coffee house or dancing at that hot little joint downtown are some fun options.
  • When it is time to snuggle on the couch, watch the latest RomCom, or perhaps something naughty.
  • Sometimes a little adrenaline can get the juices pumping and make you feel closer. Look for indoor rock climbing at the mall or laser tag at the arcade.

There are lots of fun and romantic things you can do to break out of the winter rut and embrace love, no matter how cold it is outside. For more on this subject read, The Truth about Love: The Highs, the Lows, and How You Can Make It Last Forever by Dr. Patricia Love, EdD.

All about Chemistry

chemistry

All about Chemistry

You know that feeling when you just click with someone? You feel that sparkle, butterflies have amassed in your stomach. It’s the feeling that rushes over you when you are attracted to someone, like your body is suddenly inhabited by a colony of fireflies.  But what is chemistry exactly? Can you create it or does it arrive only when it pleases? This is all about chemistry, debunking the mystery and helping you understand how it works and if you can make it work for you. Chemistry is basically making a connection. Certainly physical attraction is a big part of it. But for many people, an emotional or intellectual understanding is also part of chemistry. Biologically, this feeling of chemistry is the same as riding an amusement park ride, enjoying a rich, chocolaty dessert or a glass of wine. Our dopamine levels rise when we start to experience the incredible feeling we call chemistry. The feeling you get biologically is the same as that when you are scared. Shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, blood pressure slightly elevated and so on. You smile at them, smile about them, and smile dreamily for no particular reason. Oftentimes we are struck by love as if by a lightning bolt. Many people believe you can’t create chemistry. But it can develop over time with in depth conversations and a fondness. It depends where the two people are in their lives. Sometimes those who just got out of a difficult relationship guard their hearts. Other times it takes a while to break through someone’s shell and really get to know them. So when dating, take a little time to get to know the person, perhaps three dates is enough to be sure there isn’t any chemistry when the two of you are jiving on so many other levels.

Can you create chemistry on the phone or online? Chemistry is a chemical reaction in the brain. If it doesn’t involve the senses it doesn’t exist. So you can feel out the person for compatibility, though that isn’t the same thing. On the phone however, you have someone’s voice to evaluate and deal with. And many people find a voice to be sexy. Chemistry doesn’t always hit in the beginning. It can develop over time. People who have known each other for years can suddenly find themselves in each other’s arms. And as we age and develop our tastes inevitably change. So the type you were interested in in your teens isn’t what you are looking for in your 20’s, 30’s and so on. Both compatibility and chemistry have to be there for a long term relationship to work. If there is chemistry but no compatibility, this is like a love/hate relationship. Though sparks fly the differences will tear them apart. Compatibility with no chemistry is friendship. So it has to be a balancing act. Many couples wonder if the spark has to die. Technically after about two years the chemicals in our bodies die down. But you can reinvigorate it by recreating that adrenaline you two felt when you just met. Go on vacation, explore, dive into exciting hobbies, or do other things together that excite and invigorate both of you. That will keep the chemistry alive.  For more insight on this topic, read Relationship Chemistry: Understanding the Unspoken by Rochele HC Hirsch.