The Complexities of Love

A complex neurobiological phenomenon” is how research conducted by the Neuroscience Research Institute defines love.  In other words, the actual science behind love is complex. Why we fall in love, how it benefits us as both individuals and as a species, and what exactly love is, is difficult to understand.

Scientists believe that love is driven by evolution. Feelings of comfort and safety and the– eh’hem– “other benefits” that come with romantic relationships both aid reproduction and create a safe environment for raising offsprings. In fact, the foundation of biology is the innate need to pass genetic information on, and scientists believe love is just another driving force behind this basic biological principle.

Poets write about romantic love, familial love and the love we find in friendships.  All of these kinds of love are essential to our survival, and many of the same hormones that are associated with romantic love are also released when parents interact and care for their children. Also, our love for friends supports selfless acts, creating altruism in our communities and strengthening our personal relationships.

The hormones that our bodies produce when we are with a romantic partner are shown to both counteract stress and create motivation, and love has long term mental health and physical health benefits.  In fact, MRI imaging of individuals in a healthy romantic relationship show similar brain activity to cocaine use. This explains the “addictive” feeling that is associated with being around someone you love. Love can take the place of addictions, and it helps people form healthier habits. Most of us have experienced the initial rush of butterflies, sweaty palms, and dry mouth that comes from a ‘crush’, and some of us have been lucky enough to know the feelings of safety and calm that come from being with a long term romantic partner. Most of these feelings are explained by a release of hormones.

Scientific research is just starting to fully understand what hormones are released when, in whom, and in what concentration, during different stages of love, and they have defined three main stages of falling in love. Stage one is “Lust” and is associated with hormones that drive our biology.   The next stage is “Attraction” and is divided into adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. These stages are defined by hormones that encourage our brains to start forming long term relationships with our romantic partner. Adrenaline causes us to feel excited and more alert, and produces positive stressors to motivate us towards healthy decisions. Dopamine is the “natural ecstasy” hormone, and establishes the addictive feelings of love. Finally the last substage of Attraction is serotonin, which creates the feeling of not being able to get someone off your mind. Serotonin encourages us to incorporate our partner into lifelong plans. The final stage is Attachment and is associated with oxytocin and vasopressin.  These hormones forge strong attachments between partners that lead to long lasting relationships.

For those looking to explore more, Susan Jedd, LCPC at the nCenter, offers counseling for couples.  Susan is trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) whose central goal is to help couples create a strong attachment in which they experience safety and comfort.  Research points to the effectiveness of EFT, an approach that aims to support deep, long lasting relationships—something most of us want. If you are looking for an EFT counselor, you can call the nCenter and ask for Susan.

By: Katlian Afton

Photo: nCenter owners and directors, Claud and Jan Matney