Many of you understand what happens to you emotionally when you fall in love, but did you know how much biology there was too. When you google the definition of “Love” you get a pretty simple sentence, “an intense feeling of deep affection.”
Probably an oversimplification of arguably the most important human emotion on earth, but since love can be so many different things for so many people, it’s probably good to keep it simple.
As a dating and relationship coach, one of my main jobs is to understand all there is to know about romantic love inside and out to have an insight into what happens when you fall in love.
It’s the “inside” process I would like to examine. That’s because when you fall in love with someone your body is teeming with chemicals and hormones. The release of these chemicals and hormones doesn’t happen all at once, rather it most often happens in stages, and when you understand those stages you just might have a little more control over your emotions and your actions.
Love may be something most singles covet, but when it comes to your any one person’s actions when they’re in love, let’s just say love does not always conquer all. Far too many people allow themselves to fall in love only to have the relationship disintegrate before their very eyes. Also, so many relationships fizzle out after three months or so and this fact can be directly attributed to the science of love.
By having a better understanding of what’s going on in your body, no matter how intensely you’re feeling towards someone you will still allow your mind to analyze the relationship and make only the best choices for you and your life.
Let’s begin the lesson by introducing you to Biological Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, an expert on human behavior. She says love is not an emotion at all, rather it’s “a motivation system, it’s a drive, it’s part of the reward system of the brain”.
And because of this, she explains our bodies have evolved three core brain systems (I like to call them phases) for mating and reproduction: Lust, Attraction, and Attachment. And love can start with any of these phases.
What Happens When You Fall in Love: The Key Phases
Phase 1: Lust
Sometimes called the sex drive or the libido, this phase is characterized by a craving of sexual gratification and is primarily associated with the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. It’s the basis for all our initial sexual desires, and explains why there is so much physical chemistry in ‘the honeymoon phase’.
Phase 2: Attraction
In attraction, you become energized and focus much of your attention on the potential partner. It’s that amazing time when you’re truly love-struck. Scientists believe that three main neurotransmitters are all involved in this stage: adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin.
Falling in love activates your stress response, increasing your blood levels of adrenaline and cortisol. The effect is that when you see your new love, you start to sweat, your heart races and your mouth goes dry.
In one study, Helen Fisher asked newly “love struck” couples to have their brains examined and discovered they have very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine stimulates our “desire and reward” by triggering an intense rush of pleasure. It has the same effect on the brain as taking cocaine!
Yes, you read that correctly, cocaine! Fisher suggests new couples who show the signs of surging dopamine have increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention, and exquisite delight in the smallest details of this novel relationship. And like the aftermath of a cocaine-high, when dopamine wears off, your body feels lethargic and depressed. It’s a high/low game here.
Serotonin is one of love’s most important chemicals that may explain why when you’re falling in love, your new lover keeps popping into your thoughts. Low levels of serotonin released in the body is the culprit for overlooking a partner’s obvious flaws or undesirable actions.
Phase 3: Attachment
Attachment is the bond that keeps couples together in the long run. Scientists explain that there are two major hormones involved in this feeling of attachment: oxytocin and vasopressin.
It’s called the “cuddle hormone.” It is a powerful hormone released by men and women during orgasm. It deepens the feelings of attachment and makes couples feel much closer to one another after they have had sex. The theory goes that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes. It lowers our defenses and makes us trust people more.
Women produce more of Oxytocin than men, thus are more likely to let their guard down and fall in love with after sex. (NOTE: when a man has an orgasm, the main hormone released is dopamine which explains why men and women can respond differently and men are more likely to suffer from sex addiction.)
So now that you understand that chemicals in your body can alter the way you feel and act towards a potential partner, does it change the way you look at dating and relationships?
Before you answer, take a look at this list of questions and see if any of your answers affirm that you did not always make the best choices for you and your relationships when on a high of falling in love with a new person?
- Did you see warning signs and red flags about your new love and ignore them?
- Did you rationalize or make excuses for your new love’s bad behavior?
- Did you shut out caring people who wanted you to open your eyes and see clearly when it comes to your new love?
- Were you overly attached to or dependent upon your love interest?
- Did you have insufficient knowledge of each other’s patterns, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and make assumptions that are based on wishful thinking rather than facts?
- Was your trust based on over-idealization, not on the experience of how the other behaves?
- Was your belief “we will always be together” based on hope, attraction, and naivety?
If you answered, “yes” to one or more of these then it actually may have been the chemicals that caused the behavior. The good news is now you know what happens when you fall in love. From this day forward you can work on making better decisions about your love life and get that relationship you have always wanted and deserve.
To help do this, consider at least a 3 – 6 month probationary period in any relationship before you go “all in”. The reason is simple -your mind or the mind of your partner may need this much time to catch up to the body on whether or not this is the right relationship for you.
Also, always make sure you know and screen your non-negotiables (aka deal-breakers) against your potential partner and the relationships itself. These non-negotiables are the core values that you must have for a healthy relationship. They’re not superficial qualities like a person’s height or what kind of car they drive, but the deep connective elements of your ideal relationship.
Most people have about 10-15 of them and they can be things like you support each other’s goals, have mutual respect, he or she is family-oriented, or emotionally available. As a smart and determined individual, your goal should always be to arm yourself with as many tools as possible to help you on your quest to find love. And understanding what is happening in your body when you come across the next possible candidate to give your heart is just what the doctor ordered.
If you need more support reach out to Amie here. Amie Leadingham is a Master Certified Relationship Coach. Her greatest accomplishments come from seeing her clients find lasting love, and she offers a 30 minute Free Relationship Readiness Review here. Amie has been named one of LA’s “Best Dating Coaches” by DatingAdvice and featured in a variety of media outlets including the CBS Network, Fox 5 News, People Entertainment Weekly Channel, HelloGiggles and Martha Stewart Weddings. Grab her free eBook, 5 Dating Traps Keeping You Single here.