You know the feeling—the warm, heart-skipping sensation that comes with romantic love. It happens when your brain releases certain feel-good chemicals, stemming from a powerful attraction.
For some, it may last for awhile. But the feeling fades over time.
Rose Wesche, an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Development and Family Science, answers questions about why we have these emotions and how to hold onto them a little longer. Her research focuses on the ways that diverse interpersonal relationships, including friendships, romantic relationships, and casual sexual relationships, are associated with adolescents’ and young adults’ well-being.
Q: Why do we experience that warm, fuzzy feeling when we are first attracted to someone romantically?
Wesche: That warm, fuzzy feeling is called limerence. The term refers to the intense, involuntary attraction we feel during the first stages of a romantic relationship. Limerence is often characterized by intrusive thoughts (we can’t stop thinking about someone) and a need for reciprocation (we can’t stand the thought of being rejected by someone).
Limerence has a biological basis. When we are first attracted to someone, our brains release chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine, which make our hearts flutter and make us feel happy.
Q: Why does that go away over time?
Wesche: The feeling of limerence can last for weeks or decades, although most people start to feel its decline within a year or two of starting a romantic relationship. As we form a lasting romantic bond, dopamine and norepinephrine stop flowing. They’re replaced by hormones associated with social bonding, like oxytocin.
In the first stages of a romantic relationship, the brain reacts to your partner as if they’re a drug. As your relationship deepens, the brain reacts to your partner as it would to a loving companion—with feelings of calm, warmth, and security.
Q: How can partners preserve that feeling?
Wesche: Well, our partners can’t be drugs forever, and it’s natural for intense romantic feelings to fade. But there are things we can do to maintain intimacy within our long-term romantic relationships.
The field of relationship research overflows with strategies for relationship enhancement. They include several ideas:
- Attend to your partner. Eliminate distractions and give them your undivided attention when you can.
- Have goals for your relationship. Think about ways your relationship can continue to grow and enact a plan for meeting those goals.
- Practice gratitude. Think about why you are grateful for your partner.
Q: Based on your research, what is your No. 1 relationship advice?
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