There are many different kinds of love: love of your partner (romantic), love of your home or environment, love of your job or career, love for your pet, and the list goes on. However, it’s romantic love that is most strongly linked with happiness.
Stages of love
There are varying stages of romantic love. The first and most familiar is the giddy, sparkling, and often overwhelming stage of love that occurs at the start of a relationship. This can last anywhere from months to years before it begins to fade. However, just because this feeling fades doesn’t mean love has gone. It’s just changed to a more stable, contented and comforting closeness.
Neurobiology of love
Love is very basic and instinctual, but still a highly complicated biological process. It uses the limbic area of the brain and utilises the reward, trust and belief centres. The neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin (among others) are pivotal in producing the brain’s response that results in feelings of love.
The stage of infatuation is has been described as “addictive”, with a potent cocktail of endorphins and morphinergic mechanisms kicking in to provide the high that is so often associated with the early stages of a relationship.
Unfortunately, the “honeymoon phase” does eventually end – sometime between 18 months to 3 years, according to experts. But the next stage is the part that makes or breaks a relationship. With the dopamine induced love rush at an end, the more stable and contented side of love is apparent, governed by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.
There are a variety of good reasons why long term relationships are good for mental, emotional and physical good health. Caring for each other, the ability to talk and work through problems together, pooled financial resources and someone to rely on when you need help or someone to listen.
A relationship is not necessarily the key to happiness, but a supportive and caring partner could be considered part of creating a safe and contented environment that will promote lasting happiness.
However, long term relationships take a great deal of work and compromise. They could be likened to a beautiful garden – tend to it and care for it and it will thrive. Leave it to the elements, and it will become wild and overgrown.
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