Everybody knows that when you fall in love, especially when you’re young, your brain becomes a chemical soup akin to the chaotic primordial cocktail of life. But what happens later, when the chemistry slowly changes? And how do we maintain love, when it seems the chemicals in our brains appear to be working against us?
Butterflies in your stomach in the beginning…
According to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who researches the science of love at Rutgers University, the initial “butterflies in your stomach and giddiness” stage of love is the result of dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine.
Dopamine is what scientists call the “pleasure chemical.” Norepinephrine, on the other hand, is the chemical sister to adrenaline, which is where the racing heart, sweaty palms and heightened excitement comes from. Together, they produce a sense of enhanced energy, highly focused attention, intense cravings, and even loss of appetite.
So…you’ve found someone, fallen in love with them, and now you can’t think about anything else. This is common of the early stages of a relationship and can last anywhere from a couple of months to a few years. But after that, things begin to change. It seems the fervor cools a little…. so what do you do?
The chemistry of lasting love…
Oxytocin, the hormone that is released during sex, is responsible for bonding. Scientists say that within monogamous relationships, the more sexual intimacy, the more bonding will occur. In fact, according to research done at the University of California, oxytocin can be linked to “The ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people.”
Another hormone found to play a role in long term relationships is Vasopressin. This, along with oxytocin, interferes with the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways in the brain, which is why researchers believe that the high passions of early love fade with time, to be replaced with a more deeply bonded love.
One more chemical associated with long-term love is endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. They’re responsible for our sense of well-being, which includes feeling soothed, peaceful and secure.
What happens when it begins to fade?
So yes, when you say that you and your partner have chemistry, you are absolutely right! Love is chemical in nature, and we’re subject to the chemical whims of our brains. Which leaves many people wondering, a few years in, what happened to that amazing person they fell in love with? Join us next time to find out…