A student once asked me, “How do you stay in love for 42 years?” I DIDN’T have an immediate answer, so when I asked Mary the same question that night, she had an immediate answer. I’ll share that in a minute.
First, let’s consider what cognitive psychology has discovered about relationships, and the insights it has made about love… whether it is for four days…or 40 years.
The Science of Love
We call it love. It feels like love. And from a purely scientific perspective, it is our species’ beautiful way of keeping the human species alive and thriving. It does this with an irresistible cocktail of chemicals.
The 3 stages of love
Helen Fisher of Rutgers University has proposed 3 stages of love – Lust, Attraction and Attachment, and in terms of our brain, each stage is driven by a different set of hormones.
Stage 1: Just Plain Lust: Testosterone and Estrogen
The first stage of love is relatively simple…it is driven by lust…specifically testosterone and estrogen.
Stage 2: Attraction: Three Love-Struck Hormones
This is that amazing time when you are truly love-struck and think of little else. Three hormones also kick in.
Adrenaline: The Stress Hormone
When you bump into your new love you actually start to sweat, your heart races and your mouth goes dry. This is caused by adrenaline, the same hormone that flares up when you are under stress.
Dopamine and Desire:
When Helen Fisher asked newly ‘love struck’ couples to literally “have their brains examined,” she discovered very high levels of dopamine, the ‘desire and reward’ hormone that gives us an intense rush of pleasure. In fact, being in love can, at first, have the same effect as cocaine!
Serotonin: Love CAN Drive You Crazy
And finally, serotonin. Research out of the University of Pisa in Italy discovered that the serotonin levels of couples newly in love were equivalent to the serotonin levels of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder patients!
During the “Attraction Stage,” Love CAN be blind
According to studies from the University of Michigan, newly smitten lovers often idealize their partner by magnifying their virtues and explaining away their flaws. “It’s very common to think they have a relationship that’s closer and more special than anyone else’s”. Psychologists think we need this rose-tinted view. It makes us want to stay together to enter the next stage of love – Attachment.
Stage 3: Attachment – The Bond that keeps us together
“Attachment” is the bond that keeps couples together long enough to have and raise children. Scientists think there are two major hormones involved in this feeling of attachment; oxytocin and vasopressin.
Oxytocin – The cuddle hormone
Oxytocin is released by men and women to deepen the feelings of attachment during and after sex. Diane Witt, assistant professor of psychology from State University of New York discovered that injecting oxytocin into female rats who have never had sex caused them to fawn over another female’s young, nuzzling the pups and protecting them as if they were their own.
So cuddle a bit longer after you’ve made love!
Vasopressin is another important hormone in the long-term commitment stage that is released after sex.
Prairie voles (cute little mice) – like humans – form fairly stable pair-bonds. When they were given a drug that suppresses the effect of vasopressin, the bond with their partner deteriorated immediately as they lost their devotion and failed to protect their partner from new suitors.
So “Commitment” sometimes needs to be a decision which both of you make, rather than a feeling.
And finally … how to fall in love
New York psychologist, Professor Arthur Arun, has been studying why people fall in love. He asked his subjects to carry out the following 3 steps:
His research discoveredtaht many of his couples felt deeply attracted after the 34 minute experiment. Two of his subjects later got married
So what was Mary’s answer to how we stay in love over so many years? “Simple,” she responded. “We’ve had about six different marriages.”
“Errr…am I missing something here? I only remember one.”
“Well…only one ceremony, but six different marriages. The first was before we had our two daughters, the second was when we raised them, the third lasted was when they went off to college, the fourth when they moved back in, the fifth when they got married, and the sixth is where we are now. Each one required us to change the way we think…the way we saw each other…and the way we live.”
A Final Thought…it’s not in what you say…
Psychologists have shown it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide if you fancy someone.
Research has shown this has little to do with what is said, rather
So remember this. Only seven to ten percent of what you communicate to your partner is through what you say. The rest is in HOW YOU SAY IT!