To Love or Not to Love
People often seek to take a rational approach to love, but based on these findings we can see that it is scientifically impossible to be rational and in love at the same time since two very fundamental mechanisms of the brain are responsible for love and reason; biochemicals being the fundamental influencing factor in the process of falling for our person.
When we are falling in love, chemicals associated with pleasure circuits flood in our brain, producing a variety of physical and emotional responses such as increased heart rate, flutters in the stomach, flushed cheeks and feelings of anxiety and passion. Levels of stress hormones also increase during the initial phase of romantic love, something which many find difficult to understand. This feeling might lead people to believe that they are making a mistake or falling for the wrong person, taking these stress levels to mean some kind of danger or impending doom. Romantic love is experienced as a crisis in the brain. With the increase of certain chemicals, comes the depletion of others causing strange and irrational behaviours to manifest. Sometimes, people can even become ecstatic, obsessive, irrational and terrified all at the same time. We are also prone to making rash decisions in these flights of passion. In fact, when we are engaged in romantic love, the neural processes responsible for making critical assessments of other people, including assessments of those with whom we are romantically involved, shut down, which is in essence the neural basis for the old adage ‘love is blind’.
A chemical that deserves a mention in the process of romantic love is oxytocin known also as the love hormone. Oxytocin is released when in love, during sex and heightened by skin-to-skin contact. This chemical deepens feelings of attachments and makes couples feel closer to one another after having sex. The lustful part of love is caused by testosterone and estrogens as well as other chemicals known as monoamines are responsible for the attraction portion.
Heartbreak on the other hand is a feeling of grief and despair. It can be experienced as a physical pain in the chest and at times can also be chronically debilitating to our lives sending us into emotional turmoil and distress. This experience is also fundamentally biochemically based. Heartbreak causes a volcano of chemical reactions which brings strong feelings of sadness, and stress. Our brain triggers that we’re in trauma sending us in an autonomic loop of primal survival instinct. When we fall in love, chemicals give the body a goal or motivational related state, and when heartbroken, the very same chemicals in the brain go out of whack causing a chronic chemical imbalance.
What is the secret to long-lasting love?
If love lasts, the rollercoaster of biochemical reactions and emotions tends to calm within one or two years, a period commonly known as the honeymoon period. Brain areas associated with pleasure are still activated as loving relationships proceed, but with the decrease of oxytocin, we also experience a decline in passion and craving of the other.
Good news is that it’s actually possible to stay madly in love. Research using MRI scans has shown that the same intensity of chemical reactions was observed in some couples who had been together for over 20 years, as in those in the early stages of love. The study suggested that the excitement of romance can remain while the apprehension is lost.
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