By: Dr. Christy Wise
Intense feelings of passion and romance of a new relationship often describe the wonderful feeling of being swept away, engulfed in a euphoric state of emotion, or on “a love high”. The book, The Chemistry of Love, by Michael Liebowitz (1991), has researched why we feel involuntary chemical reactions when meeting new people that we are attracted too. There is some real basis to the chemistry and how it effects our brains. Liebowitz states, “The investigations contend that the initial elation and the energizing “high” of excitement, giddiness, and euphoria characteristic of passionate love are a result of surging levels of three key brain chemicals: Norepinephrine, dopamine, and especially phenylethlamine (PEA). Extreme highs can be felt by tapping the PEA factory when we meet someone. Dopamine and Norepinephrine are released, causing psychological and physiological reactions similar to amphetamines. The Dopamine system is linked to reward-driven learning, meaning that when we meet someone that we are attracted to, a Dopamine release reenforces the interaction as a positive one, and ultimately adjusts our mental attitudes to an expectation of positive reaction. We actually become addicted to the person we’ve met. Well, at least for as long as it lasts, which is different for everyone. Most often, relationships can retain such a high for the first six months and up to a year. Thereafter, other aspects of life creep in and that is when the real work begins.
Another well known chemical reaction is in the form of Oxytocin. Oxytocin is secreted during cuddling, caressing and physical intimacy. Dopamine and Oxytocin both contribute for sexual arousal, which further fuels the fire to passionate love and signals this couple that they are clearly responding to one another.
Three areas of chemically induced love can be defined as Attachment, Attraction, and Lust. The Attraction aspect often involves loss of appetite and loss of sleep.This is a result of the chemical reactions from Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, and a Nerve Growth Factor. The Attachment aspect is a result of Oxytocin and Vasopressin. Lastly, Lust can be chemically traced to levels of Testosterone and Estrogen. As an aside, Pheromones can also play a part in our attraction to another. All in all, we cannot necessarily control how our body reacts to others, but we can recognize that love is an ever evolving feeling and pay attention to when these chemical reactions occur and how they effect us.
However, the amphetamine like high and sexual arousal associated with new love does not typically last. Our body ultimately stops responding because we become accustom to the high and our bodies develop a tolerance to PEA and the related neurotransmitters. The Nerve Growth Factor has shown to have retreated back to original levels prior to the “love high” within a year. This is because our brain becomes unable to keep up the demand for higher and higher levels of PEA to keep that loving feeling. Therefore, the high that we began to love and depend on eventually diminishes and fades away. Usually between six months to a year. This is the point in the relationship where it either heads south or begins to really grow!
Love, Passion, Romance, and Intimacy are the very foundations for a happy and healthy relationship. While other characteristics and intrinsic actions also qualify for a successful relationship, my passion and desire is to bring sex alive and well to every relationship, while addressing the very foundations necessary to do so.
Dr. Christy Wise is the CEO of San Diego Family Services and a licensed clinical psychologist. To find out more, please visit http://www.sdfamilyservices.com. She is also a national speaker on relationship conflict resolution and sex therapy.
Her personal page is at http://www.drchristywise.com