We spend our lives craving it, searching for it,
and talking about it. Its meaning is felt more than
it is clearly expressed. It’s called the greatest
It’s love: Love is fascinating and complex.
Romantic love, in particular, seems to be a
beautiful mystery we find hard to explain.
Although poets and songwriters can put many of
our romantic thoughts and feelings into words,
love is so inexplicable we need the help of
science to explain it. After all, psychologists have
a lot to say about how and why people fall in

This is Your Brain on Love

During romantic love there are many changes
that both men and women experience. It seems
rather inaccurate to say “falling in love” because
experiencing love is more of a high that puts
people on cloud nine. “The first step in the
process of falling in love is the initial attraction,”
says Elizabeth Kane, a South University adjunct
f a c u l t y m e m b e r w h o t e a c h e s
clinical psychology and behavioral science. “It’s
the powerful moment when we meet another
person and feel energized and are immediately
aware of our heart pounding.”
According to licensed psychologist Dr. Rachel
Needle, specific chemical substances such as
oxytocin, phenethylamine, and dopamine, have
been found to play a role in human experiences
and behaviors that are associated with love. They
function similar to amphetamine, making us
alert, excited, and wanting to bond. “Falling in
love is associated with increased energy,
narrowing of mental focus, sometimes sweaty
palms, light-headedness, racing heart, and a lot
of positive feelings,” says Needle, an associate
professor and coordinator of Clinical Experiences
at South University, West Palm Beach. In his
book, The Brain in Love: 12 Lessons to Enhance
Your Love Life, Dr. Daniel G. Amen says “that
romantic love and infatuation are not so much of
an emotion as they are motivational drives that
are part of the brain’s reward system.

Kane agrees, saying that the human brain
supports falling in love, which is why we have
such a strong physiological response when we
are attracted to another. Once a romantic couple
begins to spend time together, they are in a sort
of love euphoria. “A person newly in love sees
the world through the lens of love and most
everything is tolerable and everything their
partner does is delightful,” says Kane, who is
also a marriage and family therapist. According
to the triangular theory of love developed by
psychologist Robert Sternberg, the three
components of love are intimacy, passion, and
commitment. Intimacy encompasses feelings of
attachment, closeness, connectedness, and
bondedness. Passion encompasses drives
connected to both limerance and sexual
attraction. Commitment encompasses, in the
short term, the decision to remain with another,
and in the long term, the shared achievements
and plans made with that other person.
“Romantic love evolves when one feels a sense
of interdependence, attachment, and that their
psychological needs are being met,” Kane says.
“Some researchers say oxytocin plays a part in
the evolution of romantic love as it is released in
the brain during orgasm, which contributes to the
couple’s ability to bond with one another.”


They Call Me Dr. Love
Understanding the psychology behind falling in
love can also help therapists treat people dealing
with heartbreak. When a therapist understands
the meaning that romantic love has in one’s life
and the traumatic effects of the abrupt and
sometimes unexpected end of a relationship,
they can address their client’s ability to move on
and strengthen their resiliency. “Moving beyond
the pain of a failed relationship requires a shift of
focus back on one’s self and to their own unique
ability to give and receive love,” Kane says.
“When we understand how we fall in love, we can
connect to the difficulties in moving forward after
our heart has been broken. We can then connect
again to the beauty of the experience and an
optimistic understanding that if it has happened
to us once that it can happen again to us.”
Needle says therapists need to understand each
individual and how they fell in love and what they
currently experience in terms of heartbreak

in order to best help them work through that

difficult time. “A therapist can be helpful in
supporting clients in understanding and learning
from the past,” Needle states. “Many people
choose similar partners from relationship to
relationship, but are unaware of it, as well as why
these relationships continue to lead to
disappointment and not last.”

love rose

Keeping the Fires Burning

Some of us may have committed ourselves to
the fantastical notion that romance is just an act
of spontaneous combustion. But, Needle says
it’s time to ditch the myth. “Get rid of the myth
that these things should just happen
spontaneously and that there is something
wrong with the relationship because you are not
all over each other every minute, as when you
began the relationship,” Needle says. “The truth
is that you have to put in time and energy and
make a conscious effort to sustain the
relationship and the passion.” Healthy
relationships require regular communication, she
adds. “Basic communication with your partner on
a daily basis is important to continue connecting
on an emotional level,” Needle says. “Also,
remind yourself why you fell in love with this
person.” Predictability can also dampen desires,
so couples should strive to keep a sense of
adventure and surprise alive in their
relationships. “Break the predictable pattern
every so often,” Needle advises. People can let
their partners know how much they love them by
the little things they do every day. “To be
romantic is to make a choice to wake up each
day and ask yourself what you can do today to let
your lover know they are adored,” Kane says.
“Have fun in your romance and remember that
the more effort you put into your romantic
relationship, the more love you will receive in
return. Be the partner that you seek and live a
life filled with passion and romance.”

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