The cycle of romantic love can be complicated; however, if you look at it from the effect of hormones on our emotions, it actually simplifies things. It is paramount that we have a balance of hormones for managing andropause, menopause, PMS, postpartum depression, and even our daily response to happiness and despair. Healthy, loving relationships require a balance of hormones.
When we are enthralled by someone or have an attraction toward them, the chemicals in our brain start swirling. These brain chemicals are our hormones. From a very primal prospective, falling in love is nature’s way of keeping our species alive and reproducing. Love is the most thrilling of all human emotions . Hormones are minute chemicals in our body that are produced in one location that have a powerful action elsewhere in the body.
Studies have shown that it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide if we are attracted to someone. According to research, 55% of Attraction is through body language, 38% is the tone and speed of the attractor’s voice and only 7% is actually what the other person verbalizes.
There are three stages of Love: Desire (Lust) Attraction and Attachment. Each stage is driven by different hormones and chemicals. The over-powering cocktail of hormones entices our brain to fall in love.
This is the first stage of love. This stage is driven by the sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen in both men and women. Women do in fact, have testosterone, and men do have estrogen, albeit in smaller amounts than the opposite sex. These hormones regulate the reproductive system and are activated when we find someone attractive. They also contribute significantly to our fantasies and imagination that take hold when we are drawn to the person.
This is the time when we are love-struck and cannot think of anything but our new interest. There are three main neurotransmitter hormones that are involved in this stage: Adrenaline, Dopamine and Serotonin.
In the initial stages of falling for someone, the release of adrenaline causes a stress response. As odd as it may sound, it’s a fight or flight response that begins this second stage of Love. The affect can be felt when we see the person, we start to sweat, our heart races, and our mouth becomes dry.
This chemical stimulates desire and reward by activating an intense rush of pleasure and euphoria. Newly love-struck couples have been found to have high levels of the neurotransmitter hormone. Scientific investigations have shown that couples exhibit signs of surging dopamine with increased energy, less need for sleep or food, a focused attention span, and exhilaration with the smallest details of their new and novel relationship.
This neurotransmitter hormone is one of love’s most important chemicals and may explain why you are falling in love. Serotonin causes you to not be able to keep this new lover from arising in every one of your thoughts. While in love, Serotonin makes us adopt obsessive compulsive behaviors. The same scientific studies have shown that serotonin levels of new lovers are equivalent to the low serotonin levels in obsessive-compulsive disorder patients.
The presence of Serotonin makes one wonder if love really changes the way we think. Serotonin makes lovers often idealize their partners, magnifying their virtues and justifying their flaws. Serotonin can be held as the culprit that very commonly makes new couples believe that what they share is closer and deeper than anyone else has ever had in the history of Love amongst human beings. Psychologists refer to this as the “rose-tinted view”. It is also often called the honey-moon phase.
Summarizing the second phase of love, we can truly make the statement that the attraction phase can become, in itself, addictive. The pleasure we feel in this phase is lost when we moved to the third stage, prompting some people to break up as soon as it disappears and go out and search for a new “Love-High”. If the true bond is built during this time it makes us want to stay together with our new partner and move into the next stage of love.
Attachment is the link that keeps couples together long enough for them to procreate. This all occurs after the snafu of the attraction phase, dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin go back to normal levels and allow for two other hormones to gain control – oxytocin and vasopressin.
Oxytocin is the hormone of cuddling. It is a powerful hormone released by men and women during the orgasmic phase. It clearly deepens the feelings of attachment and makes couples feel even closer after they have experienced sexual relations. This idea actually supports the theory: the more sex a couple has the deeper their bond becomes.
Oxytocin is released in the body following an orgasm, and when partners kiss, hug, or cuddle. Most people are familiar with this hormone that is present in women during childbirth and in the process of milk let-down for breastfeeding, creating a bond between mother and child, and the devotion and desire to protect ones family – also known as “Mother Bear Syndrome” .
Some of the more recent studies in neuroscience and neuropsychology have shown that when the natural release of oxytocin in sheep and rats are blocked they reject their own young . Conversely, injecting oxytocin into female sheep and rats who have never reared young causes them to grabble over other females young, attempting to cuddle the pups and protecting them as if they were their own.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that, men who are given oxytocin in the form of nasal spray stayed further than 6 – 12 inches farther away from attractive women that were not their mate, than those who were single or in the control group.
Vasopressin is another important hormone in the long term commitment stage and is also released after sex. It plays an important role in social behavior, sexual motivation and pair bonding, as well as maternal responses to stress.
There was a study conducted on prairie voles. Prairie voles are communal and very social animals that live in the Prairies of North America. Typically these animals pick a mate and stay with their mate for their entire life. Prairie voles indulge in far more sexual activity than necessary for just the purposes of reproduction. Like humans, they form a fairly stable pair bond. The experiment with these prairie voles showed that the males who received a drug that suppressed their vasopressin levels stopped showing devotion to their mates and failed to protect them against new suiters..
The overriding theory is that vasopressin and oxytocin ensure that couples remain together to raise and nurture children. Although they are “attachment” hormones they are ideally influenced during the “attraction” stage .
Ultimately, regular intimate interaction and sexual activity maintain the hormones of relationships at ideal levels. As it has been stated in many forms, in many ways, by many professionals and lay people, that the better sex you have, the better relationship you have, and thus the longer the love lasts.
In analyzing the chemistry of love, science tells us that we have much less conscious control over what we feel and what we think than we realize. In reality, our bodies are the ones calling the shots when it comes to true love and for those who have ever been in love you know that it’s the best feeling in the world while it lasts.