BY TAYLOR WADE
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 3 MINUTES
There are three distinct phases that relationships must pass before finding themselves gray-haired in rocking chairs, holding contests on who has more wrinkles. These phases are distinct in that each illuminate their own set of omnipresent and inescapable hormones – which hold your sensory system hostage – making the experience of falling in love both mental and physical. Here we examine the three stages of a relationship...
STAGE 1: LUST
Lust is driven by the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone is not only confined to men – it has been shown to play a major role in the sex drive of women also. "These hormones," as Helen Fisher says, "get you out looking for anything.”
STAGE 2: ATTRACTION
Dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin take over the system, producing sweaty palms and racing hearts. This is the truly love-struck phase. When people fall in love they can’t think of anything else. They lose their appetite and need less sleep, preferring to spend hours at a time daydreaming about their new love.
In the attraction stage, a group of neurotransmitters called monoamines play an important role. These include:
Dopamine, also known as "the feel good chemical” is responsible for the high we feel when we do something daring, like skydiving, or the satisfaction we feel after we play our favorite sport or eat our favorite meal.
Norepinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline, causes palms to sweat and the heart to beat faster.
Serotonin is the most important chemical in love. It is responsible for literally changing the way you think. It diverts your mind and bounds you to think of your love and nothing else, setting you on a path with the end goal being to fall in love.
STAGE 3: ATTACHMENT
Attachment is the final stage of a relationship, forming powerful bonds that enable couples to produce and raise children together. People couldn't possibly stay in the attraction stage forever – it is unstable and not a good basis for child-rearing. However, the attachment phase enables mating, pair-bonding and parenting (respectively). It is characterized by feelings of calmness, security, social comfort and emotional union. Important in this stage are two hormones released by the nervous system, which are thought to play a role in social attachments. These include:
Oxytocin is released by both sexes during orgasm and promotes bonding when adults are intimate. The theory goes that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes.
Vasopressin is an important chemical in the long-term commitment stage. Its role in long-term relationships was discovered when scientists looked at the prairie vole.
Identifying your relationship stage is helpful in understanding and navigating your relationship progress. For example, if you’re worried that your relationship is becoming stale, engage in new activities to get the dopamine flowing. On the contrary, it's helpful to realize that all relationships eventually move past this exhilarating attraction phase into a stable attachment phase – no, you are not just becoming boring. Sit back and enjoy the journey of falling in lust, falling in love, and falling into forever.
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