Sex is the entire purpose of life - because that’s how all lives begin.
What an interesting sentence isn’t it? But really, Isn’t having a fulfilling relationship important in life? It is to me!
February is Valentine’s month!
So I thought to myself, this is a good time to talk about relationships!
So what do I know about relationships? I have to confess, not a lot! But I value building a meaningful relationship and having a deep connection with a partner.
Now, I’d have to ask myself “what do I want to know about relationships?”
I want to know how to create a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship, so I did my research and found this video and here are some things I learned about what happens in our brains when we fall in love and how we can create a long-lasting fulfilling relationship with someone.
Neuroscience of falling in love
When thinking about passionate and romantic love, dopamine goes up in our brains.
“ Dopamine is essentially the neurotransmitter of reward. So it is a neurotransmitter that's released when you have a new or novel experience, but particularly experiences that are reinforcing….Like gambling. Or something that is really addictive. In fact, literally addictive. It's the neurotransmitter if you snorted cocaine that is most responsible for, wow, that was great, and I totally wanna do it again. So that is a neurotransmitter that definitely goes up when you are in the throes of romantic or passionate love.”
There is another neurotransmitter, called serotonin that goes up. This is a neurotransmitter that activates obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.
“Do we become depressed? - No. But what we’d do instead is to think about the partner over and over again and feel addicted to them to the point where you want to be with them if they are taken away from you.”
There are changes in other neurotransmitters too. When we have sex with our partner and have orgasm specifically, the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is known as the cuddle neurotransmitter, makes you feel warm, and snuggly, and intensely bonded to the other person. This makes you feel very attached to the person and exceedingly intimate with them.
And the other is called Vasopressin, which has to do with stress level. So together, with the changes in oxytocin and Vasopressin, we’d feel extremely intimate with our partner at the same time stressed about being obsessed with them.
Another thing that happens during the early stage of romantic love is our decision-making ability becomes poor. The part of the brain function we developed more recently such as decision-making, planning ahead shut down. People who are madly in love start following more original and wilder animal-like instincts we had such as drive, craving, obsession, and motivation long before we had more logical functions in our brains. But this feeling of early-stage intense romantic love is not here to stay neither. The dramatic feeling starts calming down and we start getting back our ability in decision making and logical thinking.
Are All These One-Night Stands And Friends With Benefits Causing More Divorces?
It is really interesting how anthropologist Dr. Fisher described the current dynamic of romantic relationships, that is people being more and more open for doing one-night stands and having friends with benefits, doing more good for building a good foundation for getting into long lasting full-filling marriages.
As she described, people in our generation are treating marriage as the final destination not the beginning of their love life journey. It used to be that marriages were treated as one and only the final destination. Now people are much more open to doing one-night stands, friends with benefits, and living together before they marry.
I thought it was concerning that by people doing all these one-night stands we are losing the “traditional values” for relationships and potentially harming us in the ability to build deep and meaningful relationships. But this video made me think, maybe it is exactly the opposite.
I realized that the ultimate punishment someone can do to someone else is taking away their freedom. I’ve come to learn that we can not expect people to change for us unless the change is also beneficial for them. It is selfish of us to assume that someone will change for us. Where am I going with this? I think one-night stands, friends with benefits, and living together before marriages type of experiments can potentially protect us as well as others from wrong marriages and unhappiness. Because the more we experience, the more we get to learn about ourselves; things like what do we really like? what do we really want in a romantic partner? how can we deal with a stressful situation with a romantic partner?
In fact, Dr. Fisher continued.
“there was a recent study, which they asked a lot of single people who were living together with somebody why have they not yet married? And 67% were terrified of divorce.”
“we did a study of married people….I asked these 1100 married people a lot of questions, but one of the questions was, would you remarry the person you're currently married to? And 81% said yes.”
So really doing one-night stands, having friends with benefits, having to go through a lot of failed relationships, is perhaps preparing us to be more capable of building deep connections with others because all the “experiments” allow us to really get a sense of ourselves before we move on to accepting someone else into our lives.
Sex for the role of dopamine in a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship
But now, let’s go back to what we were discussing; excitement. How are couple supposed to maintain the excitement ( to create a long-lasting fulfilling, AND EXCITING relationship) once all that crazy instinct-driven animal-like emotional phase of the relationship calm down?
Dr. Fisher said: “ I studied the brain. And the first thing that you wanna do is sustain the three basic brain systems for mating and reproduction. Sex drive. Have sex with the partner….Because when you have sex with the partner, you're driving up the testosterone system, so you're gonna want to have more sex, but you also have all the cuddling, which is gonna drive up the oxytocin system, and give you feelings of attachment. And having sex with the person, any kind of stimulation of the genitals drives up the dopamine system and can sustain feelings of romantic love…..To sustain feelings of intense romantic love, do novel things together. Novelty drives up the dopamine system and can sustain feelings of romantic love. And this isn't just in the bedroom. Just go to a different restaurant on Friday night. Take your bicycle instead of a car. Read to each other in bed. Sit together on the couch, and have a discussion about something new. Read new books together.”
So that answered my question about “how do we sustain the romantic feeling?” But how about “how do we create a long-lasting relationship?”
Scientifically how do we create a long-lasting relationship?
In life, in relationships, in anything, there is fulfillment and excitement. While excitement can happen in a matter of a moment, fulfillment is a long-term thing. We don’t get to have the fulfillment instantly like we do excitement at the beginning of a relationship. Fulfillment is earned, and the cost of earning it can be significant. Although there is something very special and amazing about earning it. How can we find someone that we want to build this fulfilling partnership with? Here is what I found:
“having very similar values, and to some degree, having a lot of similarities in general often leads to a longer-term ability to maintain the relationship”
This made sense to me, building a relationship that takes two people means you are no longer an interest of one person, yourself, but also of the other person. Not a single person is exactly the same in this world as we all know so for us to co-exist with someone else, we have to care and compromise for the other person. The more similar you are to the other person at things like your interests, belief systems, socio-economical background, education level, childhood environment, the higher the chance that people in the relationship need to make fewer compromises.
And the video summaries as “And then the question becomes, how good are you and your partner individually at communication, at compromise, at being able to make choices that really aren't your first choice, for the service of some greater good?”
Finally, the key to happy long-lasting relationships seems to be achieved by three things.
“ We did a study, a brain-scanning study, of people who were married an average of 21 years. And those people who were married an average of 21 years, who were still madly in love with their partner showed activity in three brain regions. A brain region linked with empathy, a brain region linked with controlling your own emotions, and a brain region linked with what we call positive illusions, the simple ability, but sometimes hard, to overlook what you don't like about somebody, and then focus on what you do.”
So that’s it, guys! This was my report of my finding. Interestingly enough, the three conclusions are what we, at LifeUpEducationTV, always preach! Have empathy, Learn how to discipline your emotion, and Look at the positives - not the negatives. Apparently, these life principles that we talk about so often also apply to what makes a successful long-lasting full filling relationship!