How your brain changes when you fall in love and 4 health benefits
- Falling in
lovecauses a rush of dopamine and norepinephrine, which make you feel giddy and happy.
- In a long-term
relationship, your brain releases oxytocin and vasopressin, which drive pair-bonding.
- Love can have
healthbenefits like boosting immunity, dulling pain, and helping you live longer.
When you first fall in love with someone, life feels a little different. You may feel overwhelming euphoria when you're with the person you love — and you may crave them desperately when they're not around.
These feelings happen because your brain is behaving differently. Falling in love sparks a rush of good-feeling chemicals that make you feel like you're on top of the world. As time goes on, these feelings evolve. Butterflies and euphoria may fade away, while the urge to bond and stay together may grow — but why is that?
Here's how love affects your brain — both in the beginning and long term.
The honeymoon stage
The honeymoon stage typically refers to the first few months of a relationship, but how long it lasts will vary for every couple. During this stage, your brain releases a flood of dopamine and norepinephrine — two neurotransmitters responsible for that giddy, euphoric feeling you get.
- Dopamine is involved in your brain's reward system — and the "reward" it makes you crave is the company of the person you love. This explains why you can't stop thinking about your lover and can't wait to see them again. The behavior is similar to an addiction. In fact, the same regions in the brain light up when you're attracted to someone as when a drug addict takes cocaine.
- Norepinephrine increases your heart rate, keeps you up at night thinking about the person you love, and makes you preoccupied with your partner.
Falling in love can also lower serotonin levels. Lowered serotonin levels are common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders. This may contribute to why you may feel almost obsessed with your partner — and why you can't stop thinking about them no matter how hard you try.
When you're with someone you love for a long time, your brain chemistry tends to change. Instead of dopamine and norepinephrine, your brain releases the neurotransmitters oxytocin and vasopressin.
This is when you may feel the rush of euphoria from the honeymoon stage transform into a calmer state of attachment and companionship, says Sandra Langeslag, PhD, associate professor of behavioral neuroscience at University of Missouri, St. Louis who specializes in the neurocognition of romantic love.
Oxytocin and vasopressin both drive attachment and pair-bonding, which makes you feel attached to the person you love. These chemicals also contribute to your desire to protect and care for your partner, says Langeslag.
The science of lust
Sexual desire is primarily driven by the sex hormone testosterone in both men and women, says Langeslag. Libido can surge or drop due to many factors. "Levels of sex hormones fluctuate during the day, during the year, and during the menstrual cycle (for females)," says Langeslag.
Plus, Fisher says the reason why testosterone is linked to lust is simple: evolution. "It's linked with lust in all mammalian species and may well have first evolved in invertebrates over a billion years ago," says Fisher.
Additionally, lust can be much easier to satisfy than love. For example, Langeslag says lust can occur without being particularly interested in a person, and can be satisfied with even just a one-night-stand, whereas love involves infatuation, adoration, and companionship.
The benefits of love
Aside from the fact that love simply feels great, there are some scientifically-proven benefits of it, such as:
1. Love may make you live longer
A 2015 meta-analysis involving 72,000 adults found that those who reported high marital quality (meaning high relationship satisfaction and positive feelings towards their partner) were linked to overall better health and lower risk of mortality.
Additionally, a 2020 study of over 164,000 senior citizens found that those who were married had slightly longer life expectancies than those who weren't.
2. Love may boost your immune system
A 2019 study found that falling in love can have a positive effect on your immune system. In the two-year-long study, participants who fell in love experienced increased activity of certain immunity genes, whereas participants who didn't fall in love during the study did not.
This means that participants in love may have a stronger defense against infection, however, more research is needed to understand how many sick days falling in love may save you per year.
3. Love may make you feel less pain
A small 2010 study found that people in the early stages of a romantic relationship may experience pain management benefits, which may be due to the fact that activation of the brain's reward-processing regions can reduce pain. In the study, participants were exposed to moderate to high thermal pain.
Those who were in a new romantic relationship and looked at photos of their partner experienced greater pain relief than those who looked at photos of a familiar acquaintance or participated in a distraction task.
While this study did take place in a controlled setting, it suggests that love can serve as at least a mild analgesic when pain inevitably crops up in life.
4. Love may be good for your heart
A 2013 study found that married people ages 35 to 64 were less likely to have a heart attack than those in the same age bracket who weren't married. Additionally, a 2019 study found that having a romantic partner present, or even just thinking about a romantic partner, can lower blood pressure when exposed to a stressor.
Love may feel like it's all in your heart, but in reality, it comes down to changes happening in your brain. As your relationship evolves, your brain activity will change accordingly.
So, we can thank our brain and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin for the amazing feelings that we get when we're in love and in a bonded relationship with someone –– and of course, all the benefits that come along with that.
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