Lord, how greatly I need your rest. When I feel tired and stressed from the burdens of life, help me to remember that you are always with me and the comforter himself indwells my heart.

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Your Brain on Love

Joel Robertson

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The Biochemistry of Love

By Joel C. Robertson, Pharm.D.
With Laurie DeDecker, RN; and Heidi Robertson, B.S., TRS

Have you ever been in love? If so, think back to the time when you first realized you loved that person. You felt excited and optimistic; the sky was the limit and the future never looked brighter. That feeling of being in love is actually the result of an interconnection between thoughts, perceptions, and brain chemistry. The chemical dopamine plays a key role in the feeling of romantic love experienced by our brains. When we are attracted to someone, our level of dopamine rises. Elevated levels of dopamine in the brain result in a shift in our perception leading to feelings like passion, fulfillment, and a sense of being respected. Life feels good. The rise in dopamine also allows us to shut out unpleasant aspects of reality and focus on feeling good. We often don't see the negative aspects of life when we are in love because of the change in brain chemistry and perception brought on by the rise in the level of dopamine.

In addition to the chemical changes, feelings of romantic love also arise from a different area of the brain than other types of love. Loving a car or a certain type of music gives us a warm feeling, but that feeling is not necessarily overwhelming. That type of love is more self-satisfying, self-rewarding, proud, or stimulated. Romantic love occurs in a different part of the brain and results in strong and overwhelming feelings of a higher intensity. It can create strong feelings leading us to act and feel as though nothing else in life matters. These strong, overwhelming feelings tend to shut out harsh realities, leaving us feeling valued, respected, and cherished.

It goes without saying that men and women approach issues such as romantic love differently. Some of those differences are actually rooted in brain chemistry. Men tend to be more visual and tend to need more excitement in a relationship; women tend to be more emotional and often need to feel respected and valued. By understanding these differences, we can work to keep romance alive in a relationship. Since passion is chemically induced, if we work to identify what our partner needs in order to feel fulfilled and respected, we can help keep the right balance between chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in his or her brain. Without the right balance in brain chemistry our relationship can become static. This, in turn, can leave us or our partner searching out feelings of fulfillment and respect elsewhere. One example of this might be when a partner looks for fulfillment and respect through activities such as work or a hobby. By living a healthy lifestyle and working to maintain passion and feelings of mutual respect, we can keep our brain chemistry balanced and our relationship vibrant and loving.

When our brain chemistry gets out of balance, our perception of who we are and how we relate to our partner changes. Living a fast-paced lifestyle can result in imbalances in our level of dopamine and/or serotonin. High stress and an unhealthy lifestyle can result in high levels of dopamine. This leads to self-centered behavior that can negatively affect relationships. When we have elevated levels of dopamine we tend to see things in life from a perspective of "it's all about me," and we become less able to support others' needs. We tend to focus on satisfying ourselves, and we forget the needs of the one we love. On the other hand, long-term stress can deplete our levels of serotonin. When our serotonin levels are low, we tend to become more negative and take things more personally -- often feeling sorry for ourselves. Instead of feeling as if nothing in the world can stop us, we look at everything as though nothing in life is joyful or fulfilling. We lose our reality and our motivation to love and, at times, be loved. By slowing the pace of life down and working to keep our brain chemistry in balance, we can maintain an outlook that allows us to sustain a healthy and supportive relationship.

There are other ways to improve our relationships. One is by maintaining a spiritual connection; another is achieved by practicing unconditional love and forgiveness. Spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation work to balance our brain chemistry. When we participate in routine spiritual practices, we are more balanced and better able to overcome the effects of day-to-day stress. This allows us to maintain a positive attitude toward our partner and our relationship. By participating in spiritual practices with our partner, we can stimulate conversation and find ways to lift them up and support them. The practice of unconditional love and forgiveness, as taught through many religions, can help strengthen and support our connection with our partner -- not to mention enriching all of our relationships. We all need to show a little grace at one time or another, especially when it comes to loving and learning from each other and growing together.

For those of us who are not currently in a committed relationship, there are other ways to maintain a sense of fulfillment. We all have something we feel passionate about -- something we wake up every morning and wish we could do that day. Taking our passions and finding a way to bring them to the surface -- either by participating in the activity itself or leading others who are doing that activity -- can help us find a great sense of meaning and fulfillment. Often serving others or giving ourselves to those in need can meet the desire for respect and self-fulfillment. This might be done by helping our next-door neighbor who needs her driveway shoveled or getting involved in an after-school program for kids at risk. Every community has organizations needing volunteers. By searching out those groups that serve community members in need, we can find meaningful activities that are positive and actually support balanced brain chemistry.

By understanding more about the biochemistry of love, we can maintain a healthy and passion-filled relationship for years to come. For more information about brain chemistry or enhancing personal performance, visit our Web site at: http://wellness.robertsoninstitute.org. You may also contact us at: info@robertsoninstitute.org.

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