Love Changes Your Brain—According to Science
I’m an avid book reader. Sometimes the books are good, sometimes they are not, and sometimes they are great. One of the great ones I’ve read is What Your Body Knows About God by Rob Moll. The author has taken many of the new brain studies and other health studies and broken down the results into paragraphs I can understand. Our bodies are amazing and amazingly made for complexities that all work together that no human mind can totally fathom. Our bodies are amazingly made which is yet another confirmation that worthiness is our birthright. We start out our lives with these amazing bodies.
Science has discovered that love actually changes your brain. To help explain this I need to directly quote from the book. Quoting from pp. 81 to 85.
“The science of love splits our romantic affections in half. First comes the head-over-heels stage in which we fall madly in love. This is the point where we become addicted to love. Chemically, this stage of wild passion is like a drug addiction. We forgo sleep and food because we can think of little else than the person we are drawn to. But, as with any drug, our bodies build up a tolerance, and each hit has a weaker effect. As our obsessive love matures, the biology of love changes from passion to attachment. The chemicals involved change from producing attention and the pursuit of a goal into those neuropeptides involved in bonding and cuddling and nurturing. Finally, this bonding and attachment chemical loosens our neurological connections, changing who we are and reshaping us into people attuned to the loves we have chosen.”
We’ve all been there at this “crazy in love” stage. This is when the birds sing (every one of them and all of the time) and the sky is always blue and everything looks like it has hearts floating in it. This is when every love song reminds you of him (or her). And you carry your phone around because at any moment you are going to have yet another connection with this special one.
As wonderful as this stage is, thankfully we can’t live in that stage forever. Thankfully because our brains and bodies can’t take it forever. Nor our friends and family! Our brains thankfully change from passion to attachment so we can grow and keep this love for a lifetime. There is that oft-used saying that love changes us. It really does, right down to our neurological connections.
Have you ever been addicted to love? Addicted to that rush of good emotions that comes from falling in love? It is so interesting to learn that in the brain this crazy-in-love stage of a relationship is similar to drug addiction. One can literally be addicted to love. The brain triggers the need for that rush. If you are one of “those,” then this is all you need to realize that you need to make some changes in your life. I’m here to help!
“Researchers have found that dopamine is related to lovers’ need to be in touch constantly. They often say that for the brain, falling in love is similar to a hit of cocaine. ‘Elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce extremely focused attention, as well as unwavering motivation and goal-directed behaviors.’ Another trait of dopamine—and another feature that makes romantic desire similar to a cocaine rush—is that it produces a powerful feeling of elation or ecstasy. Two lovers experience a sense of excitement that overflows to the rest of their lives; when looking back on that period of their lives, the lovers recall a magical time in which everything was bathed in an enchanted glow.”
This is so true! I almost hate to surmise the joy of this foundational time of a relationship to just brain chemicals. It is a magical time that involves your whole body, spirit, and soul but is triggered by these brain chemicals because God designed our bodies this way to fall in love. God wants this for us.
This season of love is important. No one should ever belittle this crazy-in-love stage of a relationship. This stage has to happen. This stage sets the foundation for the entire relationship. I talk about the important decisions which must be made in this stage in my brave dating coaching. This is the part of your story which you will tell again and again and again for the rest of your life. You will continually be asked “how did you two get together” and once again you are sharing the story. So the big question is: Will there be shame in that story or all enchanted glow? Make the right decisions because they are a part of your story for the rest of your life.
“All of these are wonderful feelings. We like having them and want more. Naturally, then, another effect of dopamine is a craving for more and a dependency on the beloved to produce those feelings again. The turmoil that separated lovers feel is due in part to the brain’s production of more dopamine when the ‘cocaine rush’ of being with the beloved is delayed. Desire for the absent fruit causes greater desire for it and more intense anxiety until that fruit is tasted.”
Why do I picture the love-crazed teenager who incessantly texts his/her beloved while they are apart? Thankfully as we mature (hint!), we don’t let this craving direct our lives as much. But we still feel it. Right? God designed us this way.
“The parts of our brain that produce this state (love) are also those parts that are involved in the most fundamental actions of existence, such as muscle memory enabling us to talk or run without conscious thought about how to do so. Love is one of our most basic needs.”
Wow. True. Keep on reading here, talk to me more, so you can get this basic need filled well.
“Oxytocin is involved in all human bonding, producing the warm feelings we have after a night with close friends or a relaxing massage, or that a mother has when nursing her baby. All of the ‘goal-oriented behavior’ of romantic love—the passionate pursuit of our beloved to the exclusion of all else—creates the perfect conditions for oxytocin’s takeover of the neural system. The ‘cocaine rush’ of falling in love transitions to the warm cuddles of attachment.
“It is no wonder then, that so many couples choose 1 Corinthians 13 to be read at their weddings. Though this passage on love is directed to a church congregation, its description of the connecting qualities of love is second to none. All these things are related to oxytocin. When researchers try to boil down the recipe for successful marriages, they are unable to improve on this passage. Happy couples, according to one group of researchers, ‘idealized their partners; they overestimated their partner’s virtues…and underestimated their faults.’ They give of themselves over and over again for years and years. It is oxytocin that aids our transition from an individual fulfilling our own desires, to a lover ambitiously pursuing another, to a companion for life who seeks the good of someone else. Oxytocin makes it happen.
“Yet oxytocin, of course, is not a marriage chemical. It appears anywhere close, healthy relationships exist. You don’t need to say ‘I do’ in order to give yourself over and over to another person or people, to rejoice with the truth, protect, trust, hope, and persevere. Commitment to work for the best in other people is a part of the journey towards holiness that anyone should pursue.”
God wants love for us. He created our brains for it and he gave us scripture that supports what our brains desire. Amazing.
“Paul’s formula of love has positive and negative components, and oxytocin is related to each. Love is patient and kind; it rejoices and perseveres. But dealing with envy and anger is also necessary for lifetime bonding. The love chemicals, dopamine and oxytocin, not only contribute to positive feelings but also shut down the lovers’ ability to think negatively.”
This is why you’ve dated some wrong people in your past. Again, not to blame this solely on your brain. You can’t go back and say “my brain allowed me to be in that negative relationship.” No, you did. You chose badly and contorted your life to your bad decisions. But you can see how your brain played a part in it. Now you have the responsibility of knowing better. Find your team. Lean on your team. Break those bad dating practices.
One more brain insight that will stick with you. “Oxytocin and its sister attachment chemical vasopressin are both dumped into the brain during orgasm, creating the powerful sense of connection during those moments and maintaining or increasing overall feelings of bonding. Sex, then, isn’t just fun. The chemical components make us willing and able to give of ourselves for the sake of the other person.
“These romance chemicals have one other feature, in addition to helping us bond with those we love. They shake up the neurological connections in our brains. As our neurons fire together, they ‘wire together.’ This makes our brain more efficient by laying down a pathway for a brain process that will be repeated over and over again. We don’t easily disrupt these neural pathways.
“Bonding to another person, however, requires the undoing of a number of brain pathways. Oxytocin, according to some scientists, is an ‘amnestic hormone.’ It allows us to unlearn behavior. The chemical ‘melts down existing neuronal connections that underlie existing attachments, so new attachments can be formed.’ Oxytocin doesn’t just help us to be patient and kind. It doesn’t simply reduce our tendencies toward pride and boastfulness. We are still who we are, but the attachment chemicals enable us to end any behaviors and attitudes that would prevent us from fully bonding and attaching to those we love.
“In one sense, this is the greatest miracle that sex produces, though certainly procreation is miraculous as well. In the sexual experience we are able to change who we are, turning away from being individuals focused on our own desires, our own ideas and our own gratification. In sexual love, we become new people as we emerge as ‘one flesh’ from the union we have chosen.”
Our brains line up with the biblical view of sex. Hebrews 13:4 makes even more sense now. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…” That should not really surprise us because both come from the same source, God. Yet don’t you find it amazing that our brains and our bodies are made to have sex with one person?
This then grieves my heart as I watch this “hookup culture” go from one person to the next sexually. Are their brain neurons no longer firing together and moving towards bonding? Are their brains being scrambled as they shut down not attaching to someone their bodies are chemically needing to bond with? What is this doing to their brains? To their souls?
1 Corinthians 6:13 says “…The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body.” Also, 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” Do these brain studies give these oft-quoted verses deeper meanings?
There is still so much to learn about our brains. There is still so much for me to learn to espouse any wiser on our brains because most of the results are way over my head in understanding. So having this little bit of research broken down in such a way for me to understand is just enough for me to pass on to you to challenge your thinking.
God has made us to fall in love—and be crazy in love—and bond with another human being. God is for us doing this and with us doing this. It is in our neurological makeup. Amazing. So let’s date and marry well.
Note: Everything in the book is footnoted to a scientific study.
(Photo credit: Pixabay)
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