In light of current biological research, it seems that the phrase “madly in love” is not merely a metaphor. There is ample evidence to suggest that falling in love is physiologically similar to mental illness. Disorders like OCD are associated with an imbalance of serotonin, and when studied, researchers discovered that both obsessives and lovers had serotonin levels 40% below normal. Hmmm.
So why is it that we often recover from the illness of love? Biologically speaking, the reasons romantic love fades may be found in the way our brains respond to the surge and pulse of dopamine that accompanies passions and gets us high. In the right proportions, dopamine creates intense energy, exhilaration, and focused attention, which is why, when you are newly in love, you can stay up all night, hike a mountain faster, and push the limits of your skills. Love makes you bold and bright and take risks you wouldn’t normally take.
If this chemically altered state of love similar to mental illness were to continue, psychological damage could result. Never mind the practical implications: falling behind at work, not getting enough sleep, losing track of time… Seriously, though, this phase of love is not physiologically meant to last.
It does appear, however, that couples in happy long term relationships have moved from a dopamine-drenched state of romantic love to a quiet oxytocin-induced attachment. Oxytocin is the peptide hormone that promotes a feeling of bonding and connection and is released during breastfeeding, hugs, and orgasm. Physiologically speaking, couples that are successful in finding ways to stimulate oxytocin release in each other are more likely to happily stay together.
So, what can we do to stimulate the release of oxytocin, and thereby stay connected and happy with our partners?
1. Hug each other often!
2. Look at each other when you’re talking or being intimate.
3. Go on adventures together, like visiting new places, riding roller coasters, exercising together, or skydiving.
4. Laugh together.
5. Give each other regular massages (any body part will do).
6. Whenever tension occurs, stop before it escalates into anger. Physically connect with one another (hold hands, hug, etc.), breathe together for a few minutes, then talk.