What Happens When We Experience Romantic Love
Love may be a mystery to some, but we know more about it than you might think—and psychologists are uncovering more of its intricacies every day. So, what really happens when you fall in love?
The Side Effects
No, you’re not imagining those euphoric, blissful, and sometimes painful feelings that come with love. Check out the chemicals—and their effects—that your brain produces to give you that lovin’ feelin’.
Can’t get enough? As the pleasure-giving neurotransmitter, dopamine keeps you coming back for more.
Also known as noradrenaline, this chemical makes your heart go pitter-patter and gives you that first-love excitement.
Feeling obsessed with your new S.O.? Blame the decrease in serotonin that often happens when you’re in love (also common with obsessive compulsive disorder).
Nicknamed “the love hormone,” oxytocin creates the feeling of closeness and helps with building long-term attachment.
The release of this chemical also contributes to the feeling of increased attachment in love.
Although love seems intangible, psychologists often seek to define it. The triangular theory of love was developed by psychologist Robert J. Sternberg to explore love’s elements—intimacy, passion, and commitment—and how they combine to determine different kinds of relationships.
- Intimacy: Closeness & connectedness
- Passion: Emotional & physical bonding
- Commitment: Choice & decision
When all 3 elements come together, it’s called consummate love. Although the ultimate goal, it’s often hard to maintain.
Making Love Work
Love has no easy answer. But countless studies have helped identify certain behaviors and habits that can contribute to a happier relationship. Below are just a few:
Invest time and energy
One study found that spouses who spent time talking or sharing an activity with each other at least once a week were 3.5 times more likely to be very happy in their marriage, compared with spouses who shared less couple time.
Fight the right way
When arguing, engage in constructive fighting strategies like listening and having a calm discussion. A long-term study on 373 couples found that destructive fighting (e.g., yelling, criticizing) and withdrawal predicted higher divorce rates.
Share in your partner’s triumphs
It’s not just about how you respond to the bad. Studies have shown that when partners react to positive event disclosures in a supportive way, couples report feeling more intimate and satisfied with their relationship.
Perhaps we’ll never know the answers to all of love’s questions. But with psychology’s help, we can bring together the mind, body, and human experience to get close. Learn more about how you can utilize a degree in psychology to discover more about the science of love.