The Role Of Chemistry Between People In Real Love

The early stages of a relationship and real, long-term love are quite different.

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In 2006, National Geographic released a study called "Love: The Chemical Reaction," which explored chemistry between people and how relationships form.

The work, done by a multitude of experts nearly 15 years ago, revealed that scientists discovered that the cocktail of brain chemicals that sparks romance is totally different from the blend that fosters long-term attachment.

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The chemistry between people in a new relationship versus those in an established commitment is totally different.

We now know and understand more about real love versus infatuation than we did when this research came out.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s still an enigma that people, particularly young folks, unconsciously keep falling into bad relationship traps with repeated patterns of broken dreams and broken hearts.

The questions the researchers wanted to answer in the study were:

  • Does passion necessarily diminish over time?
  • How reliable is romantic love versus infatuation?
  • Can marriage be good when the libido is replaced with friendship, or even economic partnership, such as two people bound by bank accounts?

Love is often romanticized.

This gives people unrealistic expectations of the chemistry they "should" feel.


The milieu of our culture reflects love in illusionary forms. Disney stories and movies left us as children to believe that “one day, our prince will come,” and we'll live happily ever after.

Coupled with this are modern romance movies that had and still have happy endings. Things like The Hallmark Channel's love stories highlight romance with happy endings and never show an accurate depiction of the long-term love and struggles that come after the initial infatuation period.

Heavily-romanticized songs about needing someone to survive reflect codependency, while others reflect the results of breakups and a longing to reunite, despite incompatibility.

We are a culture that loves happy endings.

Our culture tends to invest unconsciously into infatuation with high hopes that it’s the "real" thing. Too often, it’s not, and you end up hopelessly believing to be in love with the wrong guy.


Just for the record, women don’t have the exclusive market on the illusion of love. Men are easily susceptible to infatuation, as well.

Forming a relationship is driven by mating instinct.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher traced the specific chemical pathways when people fall in love.

She discovered that when each partner looked at each other, the parts of the brain linked to reward and pleasure light up, not unlike drugs and obsessive-compulsive behavior.

This indicates that infatuation is a chemical reaction causing excitement and pleasure.

She suggested that forming a relationship is ultimately driven by mating instinct, which is wired into the primitive parts of the brain. It has nothing to do with real love!


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Yet, people often fall prey to infatuation that is more likened to addiction than real love.

Biologically speaking, the reasons romantic love fades may be found in the way your brain responds to the surge and pulse of dopamine that accompanies passion and makes you believe it’s the "real" thing.


Passion usually ends, unlike in long-term relationships where love is real.

Oxytocin is believed to be abundant in both partners.

Oxytocin is the “feel good” chemical that makes couples feel connected and experience a secure attachment. It's the same chemical your brain makes when holding a baby, your pet, or during meditation.

Thomas Lewis from the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Medicine hypothesizes that romantic love is rooted in our earliest infantile experiences with intimacy.

This is the first stage of development when you're trying to figure out if this is a safe universe.

Social psychologist Erik Erikson says in his book, Eight Stages of Man, that this largely depends on the mental health of the mother when a baby is young.


Can she adequately provide the nurturing and bonding required to achieve trust? You take these infantile experiences, tucked deep in your memories, all through adulthood, and bring them into your relationships unconsciously.

The familiarity you experience as early as the first nine months of your life can predict your choices in partners, as well as your personal growth and development.

As you mature, it lays the foundation for each developmental stage that follows.

Not unlike building a home, if the foundation of trust in your life is good and solid, the house will be strong and survive wear and tear. If the foundation is weak, the house will not sustain the test of time.


This formative time determines your attraction and chemistry connection with potential partners.

Hedy Schleifer, master couples counselor and founder of EcCT, (Encounter-Centered Couples Transformation) suggests you choose your mate to give us the biggest nightmare, then fire them for doing exactly what you hired them to do.

This, of course, is an unconscious process you unwittingly choose.

It’s so important to be conscious of your choices and maintain consciousness and attunement in your relationships.

This is not to say that infatuation can’t develop into lasting love.

Michael Vincent Miller, Ph.D., argues it can also be the beginning of real love. We are all capable of lasting love.


It takes empathy to wipe out defensiveness and learning how to work on a relationship if you desire the outcome of lasting love.

It’s very possible and highly probable to create and maintain relational maturity that provides the essence of a secure attachment.

It takes a big “yes” from each partner to enter into couples therapy where they can find the resources and skills to practice on their own.

It takes commitment, perseverance, courage, and an open mind.

Falling in love leads to many disappointments, unhappiness, and heartbreaks. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Like any ailment that needs attention, relationships on the brink, or even when partners think it’s too late, can be restored and even capable of reaching a higher level of intimacy.


The chemistry between people of romantic love and infatuation is wonderful, but no matter how fulfilled you may feel in the beginning, nothing compares to the real thing — true love.

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Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, and author. For more information on how to create and maintain a conscious relationship, order Joan’s new book, I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success.