Those of us who have had the wonderful experience of falling in love and being infatuated with someone, also know that this amazing high and trance-like bliss does not last forever. We either progress into deeper love and commitment or make the decision to break apart and detach.
Neuroscientists have determined that after a period of anywhere from six months to two years, the brain downshifts its response and the production of stimulating chemicals and levels of neurotransmitters like PEA start to drop off. It is the body’s innate wisdom to turn down the volume because it cannot maintain the lust-crazed state forever or people would eventually collapse with exhaustion.
Understanding this phenomenon in advance can really help partners anticipate this phase and help them move into the next phase of trust and commitment where true love really begins. Once you find an attractive partner, how does your brain decide if you want to keep him or her?The desire to commit to someone is strongly linked to two hormones of emotional bonding, oxytocin and vasopressin.
Oxytocin is released by the pituitary gland and acts on the ovaries and testes to regulate reproduction. Researchers suspect that this hormone is important for forming close social bonds. The levels of this chemical rise when couples watch romantic movies, hug, or hold hands. Blocking oxytocin prevents from bonding in a normal way. This is because couples bond to certain characteristics in each other. That’s is why you are attracted to the same type of man or woman repeatedly.
Oxytocin is also related to the feelings of closeness and being “in love”. First, the skin is sensitized by oxytocin, encouraging affection and touching behavior. Then, oxytocin levels rise during subsequent touching and eventually even with the anticipation of being touched. Oxytocin increases during sexual activity, peaks at orgasm, and stays elevated for a period of time after intercourse. This may also be why men are more likely to talk and feel emotionally connected after sex.
In addition, there is an amnesic effect created by oxytocin during sex and orgasm that blocks negative memories people have about each other for a period of time. The same amnesic effect occurs from the release of oxytocin during childbirth, while a mother is nursing to help her forget the labor pain, and during long, stressful nights spent with a newborn so that she can bond to her baby with positive feelings and love.
Bonding chemicals can also enhance fertility. Increases in oxytocin have enhanced fertility in some studies in animals. In humans, increased oxytocin levels are associated with decreased stress levels and increased trust, both of which are likely to enhance conception.
This chemical is involved in regulating sexual persistence, assertiveness, dominance, and territorial markings. Not surprisingly, it is found in higher levels in the male brain. Why do some men constantly live with the discomfort of a wandering eye, while others remain content with fidelity? The difference may have to do with vasopressin.
High levels of oxytocin and vasopressin may interfere with dopamine and norepinephrine pathways, which may explain why attachment grows as mad, passionate love fades. The antidote may be doing novel things together to goose the two love neurotransmitters. Elevated testosterone can suppress oxytocin and vasopressin. There is good evidence that men with higher testosterone levels tend to marry less often, be more abusive in their marriage, and divorce more regularly. The reverse can also be true. If a man holds a baby, levels of testosterone go down, perhaps in part because of oxytocin and vasopressin going up.
The trust, bonding, and persistence created by oxytocin and vasopressin are critical for a partnership to succeed. However, the release of these hormones is not enough by itself to keep two people compatible sexually and romantically. It is at this time when it is critical for partners to communicate their desires and needs to each other both in the bedroom and outside of the bedroom, to listen attentively and be mutually supportive of the bond that has formed from attraction to commitment.