Like thirst and hunger, love is essential for human survival. It can be hard for us to understand love. For thousands of years, researchers have been trying to understand how love works. Neuroscientists studying love have finally come closer to understanding how it works.
Neuroscience has identified three stages of love. Understanding the stages of love can help you and your partner have a long-lasting relationship.
Stage 1: Lust
This stage is characterized by an intense sexual attraction toward someone. People in this stage of love may characterize it as love at first sight. The primary driver of this stage is physical attraction. Our evolutionary need to reproduce is behind this stage of love. This need is shared among all living things.
This stage of love is totally ruled by your hormones —specifically, estrogen and testosterone. The hypothalamus of the brain stimulates the production of sex hormones from the ovaries and testes. Both sex hormones play a role in sexual desire in men and women.
Many relationships start out in this stage of love. For a relationship to last, it must progress through the other stages of love, including attraction and attachment.
Stage 2: Attraction
This stage is sometimes called the honeymoon stage. Your relationship is still new and exciting. You want to be around each other as much as possible. In this stage, a person may experience butterflies, fixation, and intense longing for the person thanks to a rush of dopamine.
In the early part of the relationship, the other person may be the center of your life. You may have trouble seeing their flaws. You may think that your partner is the most perfect being alive, as Dr. Alexandra Solomon, author of “Loving Bravely” puts it.
This stage is where many couples may start to get serious. The drive and excitement associated with this stage of love may help to kickstart the rest of your relationship.
On the other hand, a person may believe that they have fallen out of love once the honeymoon phase wears off and they see flaws in their partner. They may question their relationship or break up. I always tell couples that these are normal thoughts. However, couples that stay together reach the next stage of love —attachment.
Stage 3: Attachment
This stage is characterized by deep attachment. During this stage, dopamine levels have dropped off. So, the thrill of love and adrenaline that you experienced during the lust and attraction stages has settled down.
As you create an attachment to your partner, your brain increases its levels of vasopressin and oxytocin. These chemicals help maintain the bonded feeling that you have developed with your partner.
By this stage, you have a strong sense of your partner’s goals for the future and values. You have realized that your partner is not perfect and you are okay with that. You have accepted that they are human and have flaws. You are interested in your partner’s needs and invested in a future with them.
You know each other well and will continue to strengthen your bond. You’ve reached a commitment and made each other a priority —agreeing to work through any challenges together.
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