What happens to the brain while in love?

Have you ever drifted into a dreamy thought of someone you recently met? You can’t explain why, but they just pop into your head. You feel a surge of joy, a slight queasiness in your stomach, and your face lights up with each playful thought of your new mate. A rush of neurochemicals stimulates this euphoric behavior.

Is this stage of love fleeting or can long-term committed relationships uphold blissful adoration?

The Stages of Modern Relationships

Whether you identify yourself as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual, there are various stages to each relationship. According to research, during the initial meeting, it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide if you want to move to dating and/or sex and not always in that particular order. During this lustful stage, testosterone and estrogen drive your behavior.

As your attraction deepens and you decide to become sexually exclusive or not, your stress response stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters; adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, and serotonin.

Throughout this stage, your stress response is activated. Blood levels increase with adrenaline and cortisol, hormones secreted by the adrenal glands. The secretion of adrenaline and cortisol provide that rush of energy, increase in heart rate, sweaty palms, and dry mouth when you suddenly think of or startlingly bump into your new attraction.

Dopamine

The neurotransmitter, dopamine is increased with ‘love struck’ mates. Dopamine stimulates an intense rush of pleasure, triggering desire and reward. A brain on cocaine has the same effect.

“couples often show the signs of surging dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of this novel relationship” ~ Helen Fisher

Serotonin

Serotonin plays a key role in this early stage of love. Low levels of serotonin explain those constant thoughts of your lover. According to Dr. Marazziti from the University of Pisa, blood samples of couples that claimed to be madly in love for less than six months were comparable to the blood samples of patients who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Furthermore, newly love-struck couples often idealize their partner, magnify their assets and overlook flaws.

“It’s very common to think they have a relationship that is closer and more special than anyone else’s.” ~ Ellen Berscheid

Oxytocin

Next, a couple decides upon exclusivity, engagement, living together or marrying. The attachment of the twosome instigates the powerful hormone, oxytocin.

Oxytocin is released during childbirth and creates the bond between a mother and her child. The chemical is also secreted by both of the sexes during cuddling, hugging, and sex.

Oxytocin is important because couples that exhibit high doses of oxytocin have a strong bond and attachment that can withstand the ups and downs of life. For the release of oxytocin, it takes between 19 and 23 seconds. Thus to ensure your couplehood survives the test of time; hug, cuddle and have sex regularly.

Vasopressin

Finally, vasopressin sets the stage for long-term committed couples. The hormone is released after sex and like oxytocin creates stable bonding with your partner. Vasopressin also creates the actions of devotion and protection.

The stages of a relationship change as do the release of chemicals in the brain. The surge of dopamine in the initial lustful state creates a rush of pleasure that stimulates, even more, desire and reward. Adrenaline causes the physical reaction of sweaty palms, racing heart, and dry-mouth.

Serotonin creates those compulsive, idealizing thoughts of your partner and oxytocin makes for strong bonds. Finally, vasopressin deepens the connection and generates long-lasting love.

Therefore it is possible to love and to be in love with your partner ‘til death to us part.’ Give your loved one a 30-second hug every day to ensure your love lasts.

If your bond is broken, your trust shattered, or your connection lost, couples counseling can help to mend bonds, build trust and connection again. Call (424) 258-5416 or email april@aprilwrighttherapy.com and let’s get started.

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Design Your Ideal Partner with this Game

doves_heartDo you have a partner with a habit or flaw you’d like to eliminate, tweak or fix? Let’s play a game about that.

Part One

You can now design your ideal mate. Pick from any of the traits described below and even add a lot more. Go wild. Create a list of all the positive traits you wish for in your mate. Your dream partner can now be assembled like ordering a new car.

It might be easiest to print this list so you can circle your favorites and add others.

  • Intelligent
  • Sensitive
  • Interesting
  • Fun loving
  • Wants as many kids as I do
  • Great parent
  • Has many exciting interests
  • Attractive
  • Values good health
  • Enjoys their work
  • Likes animals
  • Honest
  • Loves me for who I am
  • Great sense of humor
  • Enjoys sex about as often as I do
  • Loves taking care of others
  • Gives me all the space I want when I want it
  • Sparkling conversationalist
  • Loves cooking for me
  • Enjoys the same foods, movies, music and sports
  • Manages money well and is a great investor
  • Extroverted and fun in social situations
  • Introverted and likes quiet, serene romantic settings
  • Likes to exercise
  • Great travel companion
  • Has the same sense of adventure
  • Loves what they do professionally and the sky is the limit
  • Knows just how much to tease me
  • Trustworthy
  • Wants to talk when I do
  • Is interested in my day if I want to talk about it
  • Is willing to go to therapy (just in case)

Wow, what an ideal partner. And he or she is all yours. Just keep reading.

Part Two

Now that you have described your dream partner, let’s do part two. For every four positive traits, you now need to include one irritant. Because we are all flawed creatures, we have to balance the picture.

Look at the list below and choose one characteristic for every four on your original list. What are you willing to live with in order to have all those juicy positives? In this scenario, the negatives are fixed and pretty permanent. Remember the ratio is 4:1. Count your list of positive traits and divide by 4 to see how many traits you need to select from the list below.

  • Insecure
  • Bi-polar
  • Narcissistic
  • Passive aggressive
  • Conflict avoidant
  • Hairy back
  • Lazy
  • Not interested in sex when I am
  • Addicted to TV or video games
  • Doesn’t want the same number of kids I do
  • Poor kisser
  • Loves eating junk foods
  • Messy
  • Forgets birthdays and anniversaries
  • Unmotivated
  • Stingy
  • Jealous
  • Insecure
  • Really embarrassing fashion style
  • Nags
  • Chews with mouth open
  • Snores loud enough to scare small animals
  • No sense of humor
  • Watches way too much T.V
  • Rarely expresses emotions
  • Trapped in go nowhere job and doesn’t mind it
  • Spends way over the budget
  • Interrupts and doesn’t listen well
  • Swears a lot
  • Tendency toward chronic depression
  • Too much overweight or underweight
  • No common activities
  • Has unpleasant friends
  • Bad health

There you have it – a real live human being who is complex, annoying, loving, and full of contradictions.

Part Three

Make a Valentine’s Day Commitment. For the day before, the day of and the day after, experiment with accepting your partner’s irritating traits. Increase your positive recognition of your partner’s pluses and overlook their negatives.

Valentine’s Day has become way too commercial. Isn’t this better than any box of candy?

Also, do your best to evaluate yourself against these lists and look at the ratio you bring to your relationship. Do you see the same plusses and minuses as your partner sees in you?

If you do part three, congratulations. Please share any discoveries or how hard it is to resist blaming and criticizing for those 3 days.

Please share what you discover.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Written by The Couple’s Institute

Optimize Brain Function and Create Happiness

be_happyHappiness is a choice.  It can be a difficult decision to make with all the negativity in the world.  It doesn’t have to feel like such a daunting option when focusing on small changes.  Small changes create big leaps forward.  Over time a greater sense of happiness is enlivened.  If you want to optimize your brain health and create greater happiness here are some simple ideas.  You don’t have to do them all to achieve results. Focus on just a few and see how you can make small changes ripple outward.

1. Meditate.
2. Journal.
3. Write 3 things you are grateful for daily.
4. Exercise.
5. Create random acts of kindness.
6. Drink at least 6 to 8 oz of water daily to stay well hydrated.
7. Eat healthfully with lean proteins, 5 to 7 cups of fruits and vegetables and whole grains daily.
8. The suggested nutritional supplements tyrosine (500 – 1500 milligrams) 2 to 3x daily; OPC (oligomeric procyandius) grape seed or pine bark (1 milligram per pound of body weight); and gingko biloba (60 – 120 milligrams 2x daily) help increase dopamine and blood flow to the brain and may help with energy, focus, and impulse control. Before taking any supplements, first consult with your doctor.
9. Think positive, healthy thoughts and rid yourself of automatic negative thoughts.
10. Surround yourself with positive, uplifting people.
11. Spend time with people you want to be like. You are more likely to become like them.
12. Talk to others in loving, kind, helpful ways.
13. Fill your environment with comforting smells such as lavender, rose, or cinnamon.
14. Breathe into your diaphragm.
15. Effectively confront and deal with situations involving conflict.
16. Develop clear goals for your life (relationships, work, money, and self) and reaffirm them every day.
17. Focus on the positive things in your life more than the negative.
18. Establish eye contact with and smile frequently at others.
19. Notice when you are stuck, distract yourself, and come back to the problem later.
20. Write out options when you are feeling stuck.
21. Seek out the counsel of others when feeling stuck. Often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options.
22. Enhance your memory skills by learning something new every day.
23. Sing, hum and move in rhythm often.
24. Touch others frequently in a loving and appropriate manner.
25. Power pose daily for 2 minutes.

Life brings many challenges.  There are many uncontrollable ups and downs.  Regardless of what life may throw us, we can still choose to be happy.  Adding just one or more habit from this list ensures you are controlling what you can.  You are making certain your brain performance and personal well-being are at their best.

The Secret of Love (Spoiler Alert)

journey by Deepak Chopra, MD

The Internet has taken up the slack from print media by offering tips on love and relationships, which pop up on home pages, in tweets and in news teasers many times a day. If the secret to lasting romance could be shared like a recipe for cinnamon buns, our problems would be over. But love isn’t a fact, formula, or definable in words.

Love is a process, perhaps the most mysterious one in human psychology. No one knows what creates love as a powerful bond that is so full of meaning. If romance was only a heady brew of hormones, genetic inheritance and sex drive, all we’d need is better data to explain it. But love is transporting. It carries us beyond our everyday selves and makes reality shine with an inner light. The reverse can also happen. We crash to earth when the wear and tear of relationships makes love fade.

The process of love is kept alive by evolving and not getting stuck. Infatuation is an early stage of the process. You bond with another person as if by alchemy, but in time the ego returns with the claims of “I, me, and mine.” At that point love must change. Two people must negotiate how much to share, how much to surrender and how much to stand their ground. It would be tragic if romance faded into everyday familiarity, but it doesn’t have to.

Beyond the stage of two egos negotiating for their own interests, there is deepening love. It doesn’t try to turn the present into the past. A married couple of twenty years isn’t still infatuated with one other. So what keeps the process alive? For me, the answer was revealed by reading a startling sentence from the Upanishads, which are like a textbook of spiritual understanding. The sentence says, “You do not love a spouse for the sake of the spouse but for the sake of the self.”

At first glance this seems like a horrible sentiment: We all love on a personal basis and we expect to be loved the same way, for ourselves. But if “self” means your everyday personality, there is much that isn’t very lovable about each of us and as a marriage or relationship unfolds, there’s a guarantee that our partners will see those unlovable things more clearly. Even a knight in shining armor might want to save more than one damsel, and even saint must use deodorant once in a while.

In the world’s wisdom tradition, “love” and “self” are both universal. They exist beyond the individual personality. The secret of love is to expand beyond the personal. When people say that they want unconditional love, they often imply that they want to be loved despite their shortcomings, issues and quirks. But that’s nearly impossible if love remains at the personal level. At a certain point, if you begin to see love itself as your goal, universal love is more powerful and secure than personal love.

The poet Rabindranath Tagore described the spiritual side of love in a single expression” “Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment. It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation.” The gift of human awareness is that we can locate the source of creation in ourselves. By going deeper into the self, asking “Who am I?” without settling for a superficial answer, the ego-personality fades. A sense of the true self begins to dawn, and it is this self that exists in contact with love as the only reality.

The journey becomes more fascinating if someone else travels with you. Life isn’t about abstractions; it’s about experience. If you have a beloved who stands for the feeling of love, bonding, and affection, your journey has a focus that can’t be supplied merely by thinking. The experiences that love bring include surrender, devotion, selflessness, giving, gratitude, appreciation, kindness and bliss. So if the phrase “universal love” seems daunting or improbable to you, break it down into these smaller experiences. Pursue them, and you will be traveling in the direction of your source, where the true self and true love merge.

That’s where my spoiler alert comes in. Announcing the secret of love cuts short the actual experience. It doesn’t always help to know what’s coming, because you might fall into exaggerated expectations and fall short. It’s better and more realistic to become aware that love is now your personal project. Show kindness and gratitude. Speak about what your beloved means to you. Every step on this journey works on behalf of the two of you but also on behalf of the self that unites you at the deepest level.