There is a lasting lesson about human behavior and the nature of love in the Shakespeare’s story about Romeo and Juliet. Let’s look at it and see why love can be so deadly, and then see how these lessons apply in today’s Bold New World of Romance.
As the story went, Juliet had been set up by her parents to marry Paris, a man related to prince of Verona. Juliet could have carried on in a grand style if she wanted. But she let it all go when she fell madly in love the moment she met Romeo. That same night, they decided to elope. They were married the next day by their friend, the friar. But facing the danger of reigniting an on-going feud between their two families, they didn’t steal away together. Instead, they decided to meet the next night at Juliet’s home and make love for the first time.
Before Romeo got to her home the next day, he was caught up in the old inter-family rivalry with Juliet’s cousin, Tibalt. When Tibalt suddenly stabbed Romeo’s friend, Romeo killed him. The news got to Juliet’s nurse and she told her about it. Even though Juliet became upset, she still saw Romeo later, and they made love. Her man—the one she had known for two days!—was suddenly more important to her than her cousin’s life.
Romeo was banished from Verona by the prince because of the killing. So Romeo and Juliet used messengers to relay their communications. But Juliet’s most important message didn’t get through to Romeo. She had said she was going to fake her own death so she could steal away with him to another town without being recognized. Through the grapevine, Romeo got word of Juliet’s supposed death,. But he never received her note that would have told him she was really alive. So Romeo believed she was dead. And feeling distraught, Romeo killed himself. When Juliet heard that Romeo was dead, she killed herself.
People may exclaim: “That’s the power of love!”
You, too, may call this love if you define it as going whacko over someone at first sight. But the word love has a dozen different popular meanings and no clear agreed-upon definition. That is why so many of us cannot separate fact from fiction, or media dramatization from reality, when it comes to interpreting what is going on in our own love lives. And that is why it’s important get a modern scientific understanding about what love really is—the stuff that Socrates and Freud didn’t even understand!
Modern science has shown how love arises up within in us from 5 separate physiological systems. The effects of these 5 relationship systems combine—in various and sundry forms—to produce different motivational states. But despite the fact that people are capable of having dozens of different motivational states driven by these 5 distinct love systems, we call all of them by one name: love. And that is one of the biggest reasons we’re never on the same page when we talk about love with another person. We simply don’t know how to define our emotional state in terms of the 5 feelings that arise from the 5 biobehavioral systems. And that’s why we end up doing stupid things like killing ourselves.
If you’re getting confused, hang on a minute. This really isn’t rocket science. Let’s look at the first love system that gives rise to the crazy-in-love feeling. This love-at-first-sight form of romance—which was featured in Shakespeare’s play—arises from the effects of a particular type of serotonin that drives the in-love system.
When this neurotransmitter circulates in the brain, people’s thoughts become obsessive and their behaviors become overly dramatic. This creates the type of feeling people are referring to when they talk about in-love passionate romance—the feeling that makes you feel like you’re walking on a stage.
Romeo and Juliet’s actions are clearly understandable when we look into the psychological processes that motivated their behaviors. From a scientific standpoint, we can say that Romeo and Juliet’s in-love romance, biobehavioral systems got jacked up super-high the moment they met.
That’s not difficult to imagine if you think of a biobehavioral system as (1) a biological system that regulates thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which is (2) an organic circuit that is hard-wired into our brains.
With Romeo and Juliet, their in-love, biobehavioral, relationship circuits impelled them to both see each other as the One–their dream lover come to life.. When that happened, their in-love relationship systems drove each of their thoughts, actions, and emotions related to love. That caused them to focus narrowly on each other, and tune out the rest of the world–and all other possible ways love can be expressed through the other 4 love systems: the sexual system, the friendship system, the bonding system, and the helping system.
What’s Shakespeare was trying to show us with this was that when the in-love system jacks all the way up to over-drive, dangerous things can happen. That’s why the story is about being crazy in-love, not about sexual attraction. Sex was kind of a “whatever” thing with them. Instead, they we’re using the in-love go crazy feeling to help them escape their vindictive, upper-class reality.
The in-love, romance systems that got turned on in their heads is distinct from the sexual biobehavioral system. These systems involve two diverse groups of thoughts, actions, and emotions. Each of these two distinct groups propels you toward a specific type of relationship outcome.
For instance, by falling in love, you select a partner from all the other available ones. On the other hand, when the sex system kicks in, an individual wants to make love. But it isn’t necessarily related to a specific person. It’s about getting turned on and having your body and soul exude a sexual feeling. People are turned on sexually, in other words, by something that caught their attention, firing up their sexual relationship system—not because they believe someone is their soul mate.
These two distinct relationship systems are powered by different neurotransmitters and hormones. Neurotransmitters are the chemical substances that regulate how the messages from nerve impulses flow through our brains. Hormones, on the other hand, are steroids and groups of amino acids that travel in our blood and regulate body functions.
When the sexual neurotransmitters and hormones kick in, we feel sexually aroused. That arousal relates to an environmental stimulus or a something that an individual recalls to mind. This causes a person’s attention to narrow momentarily on whatever has caused him or her to become sexually aroused. A person’s attention does not necessarily stay focused on this particular sexual stimulus afterwards. Once an individual consummates a sexual activity, the hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate sexuality stimulate a different action—which might be motivated by a feeling of relaxation, bonding and reward, or one of frustration.
On the other hand, when the passionate in-love neurotransmitters and hormones kick in, we go goofy and just can’t seem to stop thinking about a particular person. This can go on for months. It involves some of the same neurotransmitters that create obsessive-compulsive disorders—what psychologists call OCD. With our thoughts narrowly focused, we only want a particular partner—now and forever, or so it seems—so much so we can hardly be distracted. It follows that falling in love is about selecting a partner from all the others and not about having sex. That’s how we interpret the rush of hormones and neurotransmitters in our bodies and brains.
Being in love, then, is not necessarily about sex. When seen in this light, however, the idea that being in love legitimizes sex, and justifies rushing to get married, makes little sense. After all, just because your hormones and neurotransmitters drive you to go wacko about someone doesn’t mean it is going to last forever. After all, when you think about it, Romeo and Juliet weren’t even friends. They hadn’t known each other long enough for their romantic friendship biobehavioral systems to kick in.
This also helps to show why so many people have dysfunctional partnerships. If you get married when you are acting like someone with an in-love, obsessive-compulsive disorder, the odds are that you are getting hooked up with someone you don’t know much about. This is why they say the reality of the marriage sinks in after the honeymoon when individuals discover the truth about their partners. Some call this sobering moment the stranger in the bed experience, and they wonder what they were thinking when they got married. The answer is, they were not thinking. They were experiencing the Romeo-Juliet complex.
The other forms of love can be explained in a somewhat similar fashion—in terms of a neurotransmitter or hormonal response to a partner or potential partner. In my book, Low Stress Romance, I explain how the various love systems operate to create 5 different kinds of love. If you read the book, it’ll give you the tools you need to define exactly what state of love you’re in at any time in any relationships. For a summary of how those love systems work, see my blog article How Love Works — The Love Code.
In the meantime, remember is was unbalanced love—without friendship, bonding, or the true desire to help each other—that killed Romeo and Juliet. So when you’re flipped out crazy about someone, you might think about the fact that there are 5 love systems and you can’t have a satisfying long-term relationship until the all kick in.
In a Mindy McCready song, her date has her body screaming ‘Let’s get it on!’ while her mind is saying ‘I don’t think so.’
Any woman who has been in this situation might have guilt tripped herself about the decision she made. But she shouldn’t have. Scientists have discovered that women’s YES/NO sex debates stem from the very core of their biological processes. It is not something women simply conjure up in their minds. In fact, studies show that it is common for a woman to feel the maybe-yes/maybe-no debate up to 20% of the times she feels sexually aroused.
To better understand the YES/NO Sex Debate, let’s compare the differences between the way women and men get turned on:
• Women Evaluate a Sexual Situation on Two Different Levels. This creates two different takes on the situation: the physical and the emotional. These two perspectives arise from two semi-independent biological processes. So it’s natural that, on occasion, a woman will have conflicting feelings about sex. Her physical feelings of arousal just don’t match her emotional feelings. In certain situations, a woman may be focusing on the emotional content so intently that she may not even notice she that is physically aroused.
• Men Have Fewer Conflicting Feelings About Sex. Men’s emotional responses are often more closely aligned with their physical responses. That means that a man generally has a hard time arguing against his erection. Men, of course, are aware of the emotional aspects of sexual relations. But they do not monitor the difference between their emotional and physical feelings as closely as women do.
• Women’s Feelings of Physical Togetherness. Women generally get caught up in the whole act of two bodies being entwined, getting it on. During sexual relations, women are aware of how they are physically positioned and what is happening to them. This means that a woman’s experience is considerably affected by her partner’s movements, actions, and sense of engagement. This is why her feelings of sexual arousal often reflects the overall toss, turn, and tumble of both bodies going at it together.
• Men Are Turned On By Bodies and Faces. In contrast to women, men generally do not focus so much on the sexual activity itself. Rather, they focus more on a woman’s body and face, and how that rattles their genitals. Also, a man’s awareness is more self-focused when compared to a woman’s. This may give off the impression that men need to take charge of the sexual activity–as if testosterone propels them to be sexually aggressive. But sexual aggressiveness is not related to testosterone levels whatsoever. Rather, aggressiveness is a product of a man’s values and his life experiences, not some innate compulsion to nail down everything that’s around him.
• Women’s Conditional Feelings of Excitement. Women’s emotional urges to have sex are generally dependent on the situation that she finds herself in. It’s normal for a woman to be thinking: “Is it safe, secure, non-hostile, interesting, or just plain cool?” The relationship itself also matters to a woman. This is why women are concerned about men being friendly, helping, and cooperative partners. These things tend to make sex an intimate emotional act that takes place with a particular partner. Sex is generally personalized, in other words, unless a woman suppresses these emotions so she can have the sexual experience without any feelings of attachment.
• Men’s Limited Emotional Engagement. Men get emotionally involved when their in-love and family-feeling buttons get pressed. Sometimes a man isn’t aware of his emotional involvement in a sexual relationship until after the fact. Men, like women, are hit with bonding hormones when they reach orgasm. That makes them want to be with their partners. But some men have been raised to suppress those feelings.
• Sexual Arousal is Only Half the Ballgame. Sexual relationships don’t take place in a relationship vacuum–unless you and your partner are working hard at having no strings attached. Sometimes, of course, no-strings-attached does not work out that way, and a person feels lousy afterwards. That’s because you slip and get emotionally involved and maybe guilt-trip yourself over it. That happens because there are five relationship feelings that can engage when you are being intimate with a partner: the sexual feeling, the in-love feeling, feelings of friendship, the feeling of being a couple, and the feeling of wanting to help each other out. This is why, from a biological standpoint, sex doesn’t always happen in an emotional black out.
• Dealing with YES-NO Sexual Cues. A woman cannot simply change who she is to accommodate a man’s sexual interests. And she shouldn’t have to. When a woman is feeling the Yes-No debate, she is not ready for sex. She needs time and her own space to understand what she is feeling. While she cannot argue with a man’s erection, she can talk around it. So switching the topic and simply moving on to some other activity is her best recourse for the moment. A man who isn’t obsessed like an addict about sex should be able to move forward with her.
• Machismo and Sex Addictions. Some men refuse to listen when a woman signals she’s not interested in having sex. They will badger and harass because they want a quick sex fix to escape their feelings of frustration, anger, and powerlessness. Or, they enjoy exploiting and hurting women, and feel entitled to do so. For them, sex is not about the woman at all–it’s about the expression of male power and the use of force. Today, the majority of young men are not trained to think this sort of macho behavior is normal the way some of their fathers did. And most women won’t tolerate it.
As we look at how men and women get turned on sexually, the bottom line, here, is that men and women reach orgasm on somewhat different pathways. Women, more so than men, have a Yes/No debate going on in their minds before they consent to sex. That reflects, in part, nature’s safety value that allows women to think before they act. But once it’s over, men and women end up at the same place. Their bodies and souls interpret orgasm the same way.
So remember, people respond sexually the way they do because it’s just who they are. The only time you need to work on trying to respond differently is where you’re not satisfied with your sex life or when you are in the habit of getting in another person’s space when you are not invited.
If you want to learn more about sexual relationships, see my book, LOW STRESS ROMANCE. It’s available in paperback and Kindle formatting. If you want to talk to me about the information in this article, please contact me at www.billykidd.com and tell me your thoughts. All responses with be kept confidential.
Spring fever is real. Sure, we think of it as a time for young people to cut loose on spring break. But we don’t realize there’s a whole lot of biological action taking place to motivate people to get it on when the sun comes out.
Part of it is about the sun and increased levels of vitamin D and how that raises testosterone levels in our bodies. The rest is about exploring the world—which gets people primed and ready for sex. Let’s look at the scientific facts behind spring fever so you’ll be ready … no matter how crazy it gets … when you hit the beach!
• Sunshine raises vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is actually a hormone that is generated when sunlight hits your skin. During winter, your vitamin D levels drop by 50% unless you take supplements. When you get out and hit the beach at the onset of spring, your vitamin D levels jump back up—especially if you’re in the semi-tropics like Cancun, Mexico, Hawaii, or Thailand.
• Vitamin D is Associated with Testosterone. When vitamin D goes up, so does your level of testosterone. This happens because vitamin D increases the production of testosterone in men’s and women’s sex organs. And that is what makes Spring fever come alive.
• Testosterone is Necessary for Sexual Arousal in both Women and Men. It’s an urban myth that testosterone is strictly a male hormone. Women are dependent, too, on sufficient levels of testosterone in order to become physically aroused about sex. There is, in fact, a testosterone patch for women who just can’t get physically aroused about sex. Emotional arousal, of course, is different and related to another set of hormones and neurotransmitters.
• Exploring the World Increases Emotional Desire for Sex. When individuals get out and explore the world—like people do when spring fever hits—the willingness to engage in sex increases. That’s because exploring new things increase the neurotransmitters tied to the mental-emotional part of being hot to get it on. That mental-emotional part of sexual desire generally involves a debate about whether the time and place is right for sex. Exploring the world works to tune that out.
What this all amounts to is that spring fever is a biological Yes!Yes! reaction to hitting the beach: Yes—your body is getting aroused for sex. And Yes—your head says, “Why not?” to sexual encounters.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what your relationship status is. Do yourself a favor. Take a spring break and hit the beach. Bring your lover or spouse, go with a friend, or jump on a plane and just arrive. Don’t ask why, just go do it! It’s great for your health—both emotionally and physically. And for your love life. Let the sunshine give it a tune up!
– Dr Billy Kidd
By Randy Gilchrist, Psy.D. As a licensed clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist, I’ve noticed a trend in my therapy office that goes like this:
A woman, between 25 and 40, comes in for help. She has done well in college and has a successful career. She generally keeps herself in shape and has a lot to offer the world. She has friends, ties with her family, and interesting hobbies. She seems to have everything going for her except one thing: She would like to have a man in her life—but she keeps running out of luck when it comes to meaningful and exciting relationships.
Either no one is asking her out, or she does the asking and pursuing, but has little success. This has led many women to ask me things like, “Where have all of the men gone?” and “What’s wrong with men today?” or “What’s wrong with me?”
The women I see show signs of confusion, frustration, and even depression. They ask, “How could a woman be successful in every way today except with men? Are men just insecure and intimidated today by a successful woman—especially if she earns more money? Or, have many men just lost interest in women? What is it with men today?” There are a number of possible answers to these questions and I don’t pretend to have all of them. However, I do have a few ideas that may be of help.
In today’s post-feminist world, there isn’t anywhere for a woman to go to learn about men’s wants, needs, and feelings. What she gets from TV and movies doesn’t work in the real world, and what she learned growing up is often out-dated. As a consequence, many women have become focused on defining and demanding that their needs be met. So they sometimes do not know how to switch focus in order to understand the emotional needs of the men in their lives.
I believe that this helps to explain the most common complaint I hear from men. It involves the attitudes some women exude. The story I hear goes something like this: “She has this attitude that `I make my own money, and I look good and act sexy, so that’s basically the end of my job in the relationship. Now, it’s your job to cater to my many wants, feelings, and needs with patience, giving, supportive listening, and romance.’”
Granted, it’s only a small minority of women who have this one-directional entitlement approach. But it only takes a few experiences with it for a young man to adopt relationship expectations that are limited to sex and “whatever.”
Another complaint I hear from men today is they simply want a woman to be happy and in a good mood most of the time. But they say that is tough to find. In addition, there are still a lot of traditional men out there who want to feel important to a woman, believe that they are needed, and that they are their woman’s hero.
I know, modern women often don’t want to role play this traditional stuff. But all it really takes is a smile, a thank you, and the showing of appreciation and admiration of the efforts he puts into the relationship. The secret here is that this makes a guy feel like a hero, that he has actually accomplished something. It’s not that he’s simple-minded, but that’s the way his reward system works.
However, if the man can’t ever seem to do things right or good enough in a woman’s eyes, he’ll feel inadequate, incompetent, and think that he’s doing a bad job in the relationship. If this is the case, he’s not going to feel wanted or needed and is going to be put off.
Yes, I’m a psychotherapist, so I know there are two sides to this story. But I think it’s important to hear what men are saying. Lots of today’s men are not experiencing enough positive feelings in their relationships for them to get serious about it.
So if a woman really wants a man in her life, it helps if she focuses on the few things he needs most. If he’s a good, solid guy who treats you well, fulfilling these few needs should be pretty simple. Give a him your good mood and compliments, and he’ll give you the world. Conversely, expect the world but give little, and few men will be interested in sticking around.
On the positive side, it’s important to remember that happy, healthy relationships with decent men still do occur. When you apply this formula—pick well, nurture well—you’ll be in good shape. Remember, men approach relationships like a job: If you let him know he’s doing well with some perks and praise, he’ll want to keep up the good work.
By the way, do you need a solid reference book on what makes for a good relationship? I suggest anything from the world-renown relationship and marriage expert, John Gottman. A good example of his work is The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.
Take care, and happy hunting!
Dr. Randy Gilchrist is a licensed clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist in Roseville, CA. He is also the creator of The Weight Loss Mindset™ audio hypnosis program.
Romeo and Juliet fell in love at first sight. Then they bet everything on love, so much that it killed them. You’d think we’d have learned something from that example in the last 400 years. But betting it all on love is still the hottest game in town. Did you ever wonder why? Well …
Here’s the scientific short take on love at first sight:
• Gambling on Love is in Our Blood – Literally. Love at first sight is kind of like seeing someone who strikes you as sexy. That releases sex hormones. When your in-love button gets pressed, it causes a blast of a special type of serotonin to circulate in your blood stream and into your brain. That can cause you to think obsessively about one person—so much that you think he or she is the One. Psychologically, it’s a little like having an obsessive-compulsive disorder focused on one person.
• Obsessive Thinking Creates a Great Escape. When you’re crazy about someone, your mind blots out the rest of the world. Stress hormones jack you up while neurological growth hormones protect your brain from damage. This acts as a buffer against the everyday stress you’ve been facing. It also allows you to imagine changing your entire world—maybe even escaping a life situation where you feel trapped. That happens because crazy love is not simply a feeling. Rather, it motivates you to achieve a new goal—getting together with a particular person. So why not make a high-stakes bet on love? Well … because it’s going to end.
• Love At First Sight Always Ends. After the in-love serotonin starts circulating, you and your lover have 30 months—usually less—to get your act together. That’s because the elevated serotonin levels return to normal as your brain chemistry rebalances. That’s when the honeymoon is over. Or—if you are a good gambler—you move into the second stage of being in love.
• Crazy Love Can Evolve into Reward Love. If you and your partner have your act together, you’ll stop obsessing on each other and establish a life together. When you are with each other, you’ll feel rewarded, rather than angry, revengeful, and jealous. To achieve that goal requires that you have a balanced relationship. This happens if you engage the other four feelings of love in a functional fashion. Those other love feelings are: feel-good sex, feeling like friends, feeling like family, and feeling like helping each other to achieve your life goals.
• Winning at the Game of Love. Marketers and screenwriters intuitively know how people turn love-at-first-sight romances into successful relationships. That is why they show couples who are crazy in love having great sex or acting like best friends. Or, they show partners having deep family-like feelings for each other and creating emotional ties that bind. They also show love-at-first-sight couples helping each other. What the media ignores–as it cuts to the chase–is the fact that some of these feelings take time to develop.
• Moving Beyond Instant Intimacy. What you can learn from the popular media is to start thinking early about having great sex. Also, you can learn to share your thoughts honestly on almost anything the way friends do. And why not take a hint from the movies and try to feel like a family and to help each other? It all makes sense, doesn’t it?
OK. That’s the scientific short take on love at first sight. Some people become a little leery of it at about 26 years old. They have “loved and lost” a few times—the serotonin faded away and left them feeling empty. And now, they want something more. That’s great! Scientists have shown us what that “want more” feeling really is. It’s the need for you and your partner to have good sex, treat each other equitably like friends, feel like family, and to help each other.
What does this mean for you? If you want a great relationship you have to:
- work at achieving your sexual potential by discussing your sexual needs with your partner
- actualize your ability to be a good friend by being honest, friendly, and thoughtful
- discover what good family feelings really are by letting go and not thinking of your painful memories
- learn to help the one you love simply because you enjoy it
Do you want to talk to me personally about love, relationships, and reinventing yourself? Let me hear your thoughts. It’s confidential. Go to Billy Kidd Dot Com Feedback. If you want to read more about how love works, see my book, LOW STRESS ROMANCE. It’s now available in a Kindle electronic format.
With the Love Code, you can analyze any romantic relationship. Let’s look at a real-life story and see how it works:
Jack and Teri had been crazy in love for about 6 months. Jack catered to Teri in such a way that she was impressed by his gallant actions. But after she moved in with him, he began walking out of the room when she tried to discuss their relationship. All she really wanted was to take the relationship another step deeper. But when she talked to Jack about being best friends, he laughed.
“We’re not adolescents, anymore,” Jack said. “Real men protect their ladies. And they bring home their paychecks, and they take ‘em out and rock all night, or stay home and rock in the bedroom. They don’t sit around and chatter about their feelings the way girlfriends do.”
OK. Is Jack really in love with Teri? How does his behavior hold up when we look at it through the lens of the Love Code. Here’s the basics of the code so you can decide for yourself:
• He Thinks About Her and Feels Rewarded to be with Her. Most of what he thinks is cool stuff because it feels good just to be around her.
• He Gets Turned On by Her. They not only explore each other’s bodies, but they also go out and explore the world together. This makes their sexual relationship even more intense.
• He’s Her Friend. He doesn’t keep score or remind her of her failings. He listens to what’s on her mind and helps her contrast that with what she did in similar situations.
• He Regards Her as Part of His Family. So he trusts her. And he’s OK with talking about the problems he’s facing. It calms him down.
• He Wants to Help Her when She Needs It. He asks what’s going on when he sees that she looks stressed out. That’s because he cares about her and her future, as well as her goals.
That’s the Love Code. Let’s look at how to use it so you can answer the question: Does Jack love Teri?
• Does Jack think about Teri? Yes, but he thinks if he loves her he owns her. And there are times that he doesn’t feel rewarded to be around her unless he thinks he is in charge. That’s a macho control trip, and it’s a dysfunctional way to be in love.
• Does she turn him on? She did, but he wouldn’t let her get close to him emotionally. So they never explored the full dimensions of their sexuality together.
• Is Jack her friend? No. He simply cannot imagine being friends and lovers, too.
• Does Teri feel like family to Jack? Yes, in a dysfunctional sense. He tried to get her to go along with his dysfunctional-family orientation–where feelings and secrets are never shared. But after she moved in with him, she just couldn’t handle it.
• Does he help her when she really needs it? No. He helps when he thinks that it will help him get in control of their relationship or when it makes him feel cool. It isn’t about her.
So, does Jack love Teri?
Yes, he did love her, but it was in a very dysfunctional fashion. He felt like he owned something, and that give him the right to do things his way. His love wasn’t about developing a sense of personal relationship with her. Meanwhile, Teri had fun for a while with all his chivalrous actions—the flowers, opening doors, and taking charge of things. But in the long run, she couldn’t handle that kind of love. So she moved on to find a man who’d be her friend and her lover, too.
What’s the lesson here?
The lesson is that one person’s definition of love might be completely different from another’s. You can use the Love Code to figure out where you differ and where you’re in sync with your partner. Next time you’re feeling confused about your relationship or a potential one, look at the first list of questions that we asked about Jack. Then, see where that leads you.
– Dr. Billy Lee Kidd
For more on information about the Love Code, see my book Low Stress Romance.
Why does a woman’s mood change following the birth of a child? It’s because her postpartum mood is significantly related to the quality of her relationship with her partner during pregnancy. That makes sense when you consider the lightning speed at which modern romance takes place. Children are often born before partners really get to know each other.
If that happens, couples do not really feel like a family when they are together. Without that feeling, partners cannot effectively turn to each other for help and reassurance during times of need. When they try to work through relationship roadblocks, it often cranks up the level of stress in their relationship, rather than reducing it. That is why so often partners turn away from each other, and to their friends or family members, when relationship problems arise.
For a woman who is pregnant, this adds another layer of stress to her life. She does not feel there is an emotionally-secure attachment between her and her partner. So, when her child is born, her bonding system–which creates the ties that bind–will override most of her feelings of being in love with her partner. And then, she’ll focus her emotional energy on the child. In this fashion, she’ll adapt to her stressful environment in a way that protects the child.
This is a natural biological process related to pregnancy. In prehistoric times, it allowed women’s hormones to readjust quickly, after giving birth, to accommodate to natural disasters and unforeseen circumstances. In modern times, the unforeseen circumstance might be discovering that a partner just isn’t all that much into you. Whatever the case, partners who don’t really know each other never have a clear understanding of how their relationship is evolving. So they don’t know how to respond to each other’s needs.
The important issue here is that when a woman gives birth her bonding hormones naturally kick into overdrive. This hormonal change causes her to want to bond closer with her partner. She feels they should support each other and reach out and face the world together, protecting the child the way healthy families do. If, however, all a women experiences is an emotional blank from her partner–no soothing voice, no feelings of emotional support, nothing to quell her anxieties–she’ll latch onto the baby and push her partner aside.
Then, she may try to reach out to her mother for support. Her unconscious motivation is the hope that her bond with her mother will be strong enough to quell her anxieties and frustrations, and stop her downward drift into depression.
The problems caused by the fast pace of modern love do not stop here. If a new mother’s partner has not bonded to her before the child is born, he may not bond to the baby, either. He has to have ties that bind him emotionally to his partner before the baby is born for him to be a part of the family bonding process.
All this is different when partners have had time to form strong emotional attachments before the baby is born. When that is the case, a new mother’s bonding system doesn’t override her feelings of being in love. Her bonding hormones simply increase while her in-love and her sexual hormones slack off a bit.
This natural balancing process shows that there isn’t some innate flaw with how a woman’s bonding system operates during pregnancy. Rather, nature allows it to override her in-love and sexual systems when the survival of the infant is as stake. So, when people blame women for their postpartum depression, and say, “Get over it,” they simply do not know what they are talking about.
The real cause of postpartum depression is different. The dramatization of love at first sight, the glorification of sexuality, and the rush to get married before partners really get to know each other–these are the culprits that eventually lead to unsatisfying relationships. And unsatisfying relationships are a prime cause of postpartum depression.
You know the feeling. When you are madly in love, it seems like it will never end. So you carry on like there will be no tomorrow. Recent research has shown, however, that the wild, crazy love feeling always comes to an end.
That is because the hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate this aspect of the human in-love system inevitably return to normal. So you stop thinking obsessively about your partner day and night. And somethings you stop thinking he or she is “the One.”
You don’t need to take this peronally, however, if it happens. It has little to do with you or your partner. Rather, it involves a normal biological balancing process. So what you need to remember is that after your in-love system readjusts in this fashion–and you’re not acting totally insane about your partner–you will have three choices:
• You can move into the next stage of being in love, which involves becoming more deeply affectionate. That’s called reward love–feeling good about being with your partner.
• Or, you can deal with your confusion and try to work it out with your partner. That might involve seeing a therapist or just toughing it out.
• And, of course, there is the final option of moving on.
This really isn’t hard to understand because most of us have been through it. We went wild about someone and wanted to be with that person. We thought about that person almost constantly. But no one warned us that we would wake up one day and not be obsessed about our lover. This was especially frustrating if we believed that we could hold the relationship together by simply being crazy about each other. But that’s the stuff of dreams and movies. In the real world, our biology works differently.
You go crazy about someone when your levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin drop way down. Then, you start thinking obsessively about your partner or potential partner, kind of like someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. That’s fun while the in-love high lasts. But recent studies have shown that your serotonin levels will always return to normal—between 12 and 30 months down the road.
That’s when you will get excited to see your partner if you have moved into the second stage of being in love. That type of love is powered by the dopamine reward system. When you’ve got it, you don’t think obsessively about him or her, anymore—unless you have a dysfunctional relationship style.
This might sound complex, but it really isn’t. And don’t let this information stop you from falling in love. Enjoy yourself. Just don’t make any big decisions until you have been with your partner for at least a year. It takes that long to know whether your relationship is serious and is moving into reward love. And remember, crazy love–where you think about your partner day and night–that’s a feeling that generally always ends.
For more information about crazy love and reward love, see Dr. Billy Kidd’s book Low Stress Romance.
If you click on Ask Billy!, Dr. Kidd will answer your questions about reinventing your life and your relationship. It’s completely confidential.