What You’ll Learn Today:
- I’m going to teach you what happens in your brain when you’re in love so you can take a different approach to get back in love, even after a long time of feeling disconnected.
- My top 4 tips for finding that spark again based on the research and my hands-on experience
Our Brain in Love
Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow at the Kinsey Institute, has studied brains in love for decades. Her research shows (by way of fMRIs), that when we have those in love feelings, we have activity in a tiny spot at the base of brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The VTA is part of your brain’s reward system so part of what we call your lizard or reptilian brain. This part of the brain is way below your rational, conscious thoughts. This deep level of your brain is all about pleasure, the motivation to pursue and acquire rewards, wanting, and focused attention and craving.
Another region of the brain affected is the caudate nucleus. This is an area associated with how the brain learns and how it stores and processes memories. In relation to being in love, it’s also in charge of reward detection and expectation.
As if that’s not enough, brains in love also show activity in what are called A10 cells. These cells make dopamine, a neurotransmitter in charge of things like pleasure and stimulation and spray it to other areas of your brain.
All of this brain chemistry is why, when you fall in love, your partner becomes super special to you. Everything they do is unique and has distinctive meaning. You start to focus on this person, often to the detriment of everything else in your life.
Why you fall out of love
When we’re in that initial burst of romantic love, it lowers the levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is another contributing factor in all that single-minded concentration and obsession with your partner. These feelings can also cause you to be blind to your partner’s annoying or undesirable traits in the early stages of your relationship.
After you’ve been in love for some time, however, you develop a tolerance to these pleasurable chemicals, including this serotonin, and voila! There are all those annoying traits on full display!
Regaining the Spark
Tip #1 Build Intimacy the way your partner likes
Women and men experience “together time” differently. Women get a feeling of emotional closeness from face-to-face speaking. Men, it might sound trite, but it’s true. Give your partner your undivided attention with direct eye contact if you want to build trust, intimacy and that spark.
Now, this isn’t going to work for men to get that “in love” feeling. In their eons-long history, men have built their emotional closeness and intimacy from side-by-side doing. As Helen Fisher says, “For millions of years, men faced their enemies but sat side-by-side with their friends.” Women need to look for ways to stand next to your man in life. How do you approach things as a team? How do you support him in what he needs to “get done?”
Tip #2: Get naked
Harvard researchers Richard Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds (who also happen to be married) have studied love for decades also and they identify something they call the “rustiness phenomenon.” Olds says, “Couples get out of the habit of sex, of being incredibly in love, and often for good reasons: work, children, a sick parent. But that type of love can be reignited.” Sexual activity activates the brain’s reward circuit, making couples desire each other more.” She said, “That alone may be enough to bring some couples back to those earlier, exhilarating days, when all they could think about was their newfound love.”
Dr. Luis Garcia of Rutgers University also believes that having sex is a good way to reignite those earlier feelings. He points to a number of studies that show that sexual satisfaction and satisfaction with the relationship are correlated with one another. Studies have consistently found that having a satisfying sexual life is a key trait of people in successful long-term relationships.
Tip #3: Think of them lovingly
Dr. Lucy Brown, neuroscientist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has been involved with many studies looking at the fMRIs of people in love. One of the things she’s noted is that all those areas in the brain we discussed earlier that light up when we’re in love also light up when participants simply looked at pictures of their partner and thought loving thoughts!
If you’re looking to get that spark back, reach for a picture of your partner or even one of the two of you that you love and consciously think loving thoughts about your person. Practice this for just three minutes per day, every day for a week and you’ll begin to feel differently about your partner.
Tip #4: Love is a verb
Remember that love is also a verb which means doing, not just sitting. Change the routine – don’t just watch TV every night. Take a dance class together once a week, take a woodworking class together, get a trainer and do a couple’s workout, go to your local Buddhist temple and meditate together. Find something new to do together: novelty or newness is one of those things that also lights up these “in love” brain circuits.
Resources and Links:
Helen Fisher’s Book, Why We Love