There is brain science behind all those feelings we have towards those we are attracted to. Lust, physical and mental attraction, and long term attachment, each of these states activate different neurotransmitters in the brain that turn on different parts of our brain.
The desire for a sexual partner or lust stimulates the production of sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. This then increases our libido, which increases the desire for sex even more. (remember those college years!)
Attraction increases the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, activating the brain’s reward pathway. These chemicals explain why the first few weeks of a relationship can be so exhilarating, energetic, and euphoric. This initial period of being in love affects the brain similarly to cocaine and sugar. Like junkies we are eagerly awaiting that next hit, the next text message, the next embrace and like addicts we can go into withdraws when we are apart from each other.
The third step in relationships is long term attachment. This releases the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is nicknamed the “bonding hormone”, it is released when we hug, snuggle, or even when we pet our dogs. It gives us a strong sense of satisfaction and positivity. Recent studies on the party drug MDMA show that oxytocin may be behind the feel-good, sociable effects it produces.
The challenge we face in maintaining relationships is to recognize which stage we are in and know why we are experiencing these feelings. All of these emotions are important to sustaining a vibrant partnership, particularly in long term relationships where the lust, and attraction may have taken a back seat to attachment. We can consciously activate the lust/testosterone-estrogen or the attraction/dopamine-norepinephrine responses in the brain by stepping out of our comfort zone with our partner and introducing new exciting experiences together. Don’t neglect oxytocin either, touch, hug, embrace, and compliment each other. Our brains need to regularly feel the broad range of emotions involved with love and our relationships and our brains depend on it for longterm health.
Happy Valentines Day
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