Many of us have heard about the love and attachment hormones like oxytocin and the so-called neurotransmitters like dopamine that get released when we’re in the throes of love. As you can imagine in the early stages of dating or meeting someone these body chemicals are affecting our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
These chemicals are, after all, powerful emotional agents and part of their role is to promote that excited and euphoric feeling of ‘falling in love’ which is all part of the psycho-biological experience of our bodies as they respond to the prospect of love.
But is there a down side?
Do these enhancing chemicals actually cloud our judgement? As one of my clients recently asked me, do they make us see our potential mate through rose coloured glasses? In essence, is there a downside?
At the end of the day it’s very unlikely that you’re going to act against your better judgement and fall for someone who doesn’t tick most of the boxes. At the same time, it is important to be aware that you are in a state of arousal, primed for excitement and full of hope so caution and reality checking is always important to keep things in perspective.
For clients I see who are navigating the first six months of a relationship I always encourage them to consider and be aware of the following six things to keep them on track and in contact with the realities of the situation and, importantly, to ensure they are attending to their individual needs and not getting locked into attending only to the needs of the ‘other’.
1. Be aware you are chemically primed for love
Dopamine stimulates ‘desire and reward’ by triggering an intense rush of pleasure. Its affect on the brain has been compared to the stimulant cocaine! This goes some of the way to explaining the addictive quality we experience in those first stages of attraction and love. This is fine so long as you are aware that while you are so turned “on” you have to switch it off at times to really get to know your new found love.
2. When in the bliss bubble turn to trusted friends for feedback
The first stage of “romance” is a stage I call the “bliss bubble”. You are both caught up in an impenetrable bubble as if no one or nothing else in the world matters. The bliss bubble is important (although the people around you might not get it) because its function is to bind you together as your love takes off. While it is both enjoyable and important to the foundation of your relationship you do need to let trusted family and friends into your bubble because they can help play an objective role and offer her or his feedback about what this person is going to be like down the track when you start seeing them more clearly.
3. Factor in the long view – use your crystal ball
I always ask my clients to look into the future and ask themselves whether they believe honestly that they will want to be with this person once the whirlwind of sex and romance subsides. Imagine having stepping back from the bubble when all the body chemicals settle down…what’s next? Does the other person’s ethics, morals and values fit with your own? Sustainable love relies on actually liking the person in a big picture sense so is that the case with this person and do you really like them for who and what they really are?
4. Do you absolutely trust that his or her attention and love is genuine?
Does what you experience in relation to this person feel consistent and authentic? Is their temperament similar each time you see them. Do they run hot and cold about your relationship leaving you with uncertainty, doubts or pressures to be something you are not? This does not include the fact that we all (both us and our partners) have bad days but if you detect patterns of bad moods, inconsistency, poor ability to tolerate frustration and or avoidance of the relationship you may need to rethink things and ask some hard questions.
5. What is your potential partner wanting in a relationship and is it compatible?
Finding out what your potential partner wants in a relationship is a critical part of the process.
Do they want children? Does a long-term commitment fit in their idea of the future? Assumptions can make great relationships end disastrously. If you are with someone who still wants to date for a few more years before settling down and for you, commitment is at the top of the immediate agenda, then this may not be the right relationships for you. It’s easy in the beginning of a relationship to get so caught up in what feels so good and special that important questions don’t get asked.
6. Does your prospective love see you for who you are?
It is important to ask yourself if you have been idealised by your partner into being the person that makes all his or her wrongs right. In a new relationship there needs to be a space and capacity for self-reflection. What this means is that you need to be able to separate what is feeling “so good” in a way that allows you to determine whether the prospective love interest is able to be separate enough from you. Its’ important that the person has their own life, thoughts, views and feelings and enough distance so there is no sense that the two of you are merged. A situation where you begin to feel like the person has no life other than you can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure.
Overall, the message here is enjoy what you are experiencing in the early stages of a relationship, enjoy being with someone new and enjoy getting to know someone else and what they have to offer you when it enhances your life experience. And, importantly, remember that while enjoying it all that you shouldn’t lose sight of what’s real. Make sure you ask questions that need to be asked, check about what is real and notice any inconsistencies that says this is not the relationship for me.
Image Credit: http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Olivia+Palermo/