Scientists are starting to untangle some of the mysteries about how and why we fall, and stay in love

Artists and scholars alike have been trying to unravel the mysteries of love and romance for centuries. And now science has joined the quest. With techniques ranging from social surveys to brain imaging, researchers are beginning to discover exactly how and why we fall in love – and why we sometimes stay in love for a lifetime.

1) The first kiss is magic

First kiss
Is that first kiss really so important? Researchers say yes! Studies have found that kissing enables a woman to vet the partner for compatibility. Kissing seems to provide women with information about the genetic health of their potential partners. A study found that young women were more likely to consider kissing an important way to assess a new relationship when they were ovulating as compared to when they were past their ovulation.

2) Love really is a drug

Drug needles

Ever wonder why you feel such a rush whenever you see your significant other? Dr Stephanie Ortigue believes that this happens because the brain reacts to a lover the way it would to potent drugs like cocaine. It takes just 1/5 of a second for the brain to react to a loved one’s presence by activating a variety of brain functions.

When people in love see a photo of their partner, about a dozen separate areas of the brain light up, causing that hit of hormones – adrenaline, oxytocin, dopamine, and vasopressin – that leaves you all excited and thrilled.

3) Inside the brain: Love vs sexual desire

Heart-brain

Comparing the differences between romantic love and sexual desire, researchers using fMRI (brain- imaging) technology found that while the two showed some significant similarities, they also had interesting differences.

Both love and sexual desire activate parts of the brain associated with integrating and interpreting sensory information, anticipating rewards for behaviours and social cognition.

As we move from sexual desire to love, progressively higher order processing seems to be involved. It looks like sexual desire for a person lays down a set of behaviours and expectations; and parts of the brain that control emotions and pleasure become habituated to them.

Love builds on these neural pathways and involves brain areas associated with higher level thought as well; wanting more and more. So yes; you could be addicted to your lover.

4) The science of why we kiss

lips kissing

We know it feels good, but exactly why do we kiss. A 2013 study found that good kiss creates a positive opinion about the partner from a long term perspective. Kissing also helps exhibit feelings of affection, appreciation and respect in long term relationships.

Sensual kissing can help convey arousal, and also in turn arouses the recipient of the kiss. This makes kissing the ideal way to initiate sex. But kissing goes further than just sex. People in steady relationships report that lots of kissing was associated to being satisfied in the relationship – something sex did not do.

5) Couples grow to look like each other

Similar looking couple

The more time we spend together, the more we may become similar – not just in behaviour or mannerisms; but also in looks. Research has found that married couples were judged to look far more similar 25 years into their marriage as compared to when they were just married.

Dr. Zajonc believes that empathy between spouses – which makes them mirror each other’s emotions and behaviours – leads to the development of similar features like laugh lines.

6) Modern couples have very different needs to previous generations

Victorian Couple

Maslow’s Need Hierarchy suggests that all of our decisions and actions are targeted to fulfil certain needs. According to some researchers, present day couples have different expectations from marriage when compared to their parents and grandparents.

Whereas older couples looked at marriage to fulfil their physiological and safety needs; present day couples try to fulfil their esteem and actualisation needs within their marriage. Fulfilling these needs requires far more involvement and effort (which most couples can find difficult to provide for each other).

This leads to a feeling that something is lacking in the relationship; an important factor that may be the cause for the dissatisfaction and strife that a number of couples feel in their marriage.

7) Can long distance relationships work?

Long distance love

Worried that a long distance relationship may lose its ground? Researchers Jiang and Hancock claim that two simple behaviours can keep a long distance relationship fresh and strong. The two things couples need to do are:

  • share – couples who tell each other a lot of the small things from their daily lives tend to be more satisfied in long distance relationships. If a couple talks about their day, just as if they were in the same house; they are more likely to make it work. But yes – both must share their lives with the other.
  • adore each other – the couples that overcome the distance seem to see each other through rosy glasses. They trust more easily, find their partners more perfect and amplify the value of each loving gesture by the partner.

8) Watching and talking about movies keeps away divorce

Feeling out of tune with your partner? Relax. It may simply require you to talk about movies you watch together. Research finds that when couples watch movies about relationships (yes, chick flicks sometimes qualify) and then discuss them later, they become as effective at problem solving as couples undergoing formal couples therapy.

It would seem that in talking about the characters and their choices, we are able to evaluate our own experiences and choices in a safe way; and then apply that understanding to our relationship.