They zapped you with their invisible, but deadly, pheromones as soon as your nose detected the chemical. In an instant your brain numbed and all you could do was follow like a menacing zombie hoping for the payoff of requited love. Then the cortisol and adrenaline kicked into high gear with sweaty palms and a rapid heartbeat, until finally you fell in love … and, maybe, you never saw it coming.
Romantic relationships can be wonderful and life changing. Falling in love and being in love can feel so pleasurable, due to what is happening in the reward center of the brain, that it’s hard to be mad at anyone, much less your partner or see the warning signs for future problems in the relationship. The light show happening in the brain would make the world’s best Christmas sparkle scene look like a few night lights with a bad bulb. Things are happening inside the brain that we just don’t have the time to cover in this blog, so I’ll do my best to get to the point and keep the word count down.
The Brain and Love
Those dastardly feel good chemicals are busy doing their thing. Dopamine and Oxytocin, to name a couple of them, are both good and evil; they saturate the brain, like a speed of light spider hopping on its prey and casing them in shrink wrap. These chemicals draw us to each other, help bond us, reduce stress and pain in the body, and leave us breathless. So, why can’t they last?
Research shows that the dopamine release begins to decrease three to four years into the relationship. Oxytocin hangs around a while longer to help you bond with your partner if things are still going well. As you two come down off all these natural drugs, the do-no-wrong partner might start getting on your nerves. After all, they do have faults. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t, me included. Then what?
Somehow, all the things you thought drew you to this person are now getting on your nerves. The way he drops his clothes on the floor before his shower and leaves them there for you to pick up. Her shopping and time spent on social media. His quiet demeanor is now driving you absolutely mad, and that look on her face when you know she wants something, just isn’t cute anymore.
In the early parts of a relationship when things aren’t being seen clearly—how can you see when you’re swimming through a sea of so many chemicals thus, making everything that person does look so adorable. What once made you melt with adoration and awe, is now causing serious issues in the relationship. For most couples, research shows that it usually takes six years to finally come in for couple's counseling. By that time, there is so much junk between the couple it takes a shovel not a spatula to get to the heart of the problem. By the time either of you wants to admit there’s a problem, you’re angry and bitter and have more wounds than your legs after an all-day weedeater party where everyone is wearing shorts.
Who’s fault is it, anyway?
Chances are both of yours, unless there are serious addictions, abuse, and other deep-seated issues going on with one of you. And even then, the signs were easily ignored from the start. This happens to the best of us, so it’s important to first deal with your stuff before entering into a relationship.
You see, we come into relationship with more baggage than we want to admit. These unwanted tag-alongs stalk us and infiltrate all our relationships. They hover behind us always lurking and rearing their ugly head; they ooze from our childhood, relationships with parents, siblings, previous romantic relationships, friends, any unhappy circumstance. Oh, those evil-eyed triggers. It’s all there. You aren’t actually alone and tying the knot with just your partner, you have a long line of other folks there with you, and maybe even your inner child, who isn’t always on board for the give and take a relationship needs.
Along with your unseen baggage, are the differences you hadn’t really paid much attention to until now. Although, those have been there from the beginning. These differences can tear you apart if that’s all you notice. I heard a minister say recently, “Our attitudes should center on what we love about the other person, not what we hate.”
So, What now?
Know your triggers and clean up your own junk. It’s easy to blame your partner for your mood, but whether it’s your spouse, a co-worker, the grocery clerk, a friend, or even a political candidate who gets under your skin so severely you sometimes lose it, there’s a reason they trigger you and you should find out why. This part of your personality isn’t going anywhere unless you do the hard work and investigation.
What haunts you?
What part of your past has just jumped into the present and set off the fight or flight chemical reaction? Is it the look on their face? Do they remind you of grandpa holding the belt? Or that evil teacher from fourth grade who always said in front of the whole class, “You should know better. What's wrong with you?” And what about mom’s apathy and dad’s anger? The look on their faces. Your entire past is part of who you are and how you react to others.
You see, triggers left over from painful past experiences somehow nudge their way to the surface when those feel good chemicals have long since gone and the result is that our partner begins to remind our mind of all those annoying folks from the past. Your present issues can sometimes have more to do with the past than they do the present. Emotional memories are powerful and can force a wedge between you and your partner. Examining your triggers, getting to know how you tick, can ease the emotional tension between you and your partner. Getting things fixed within yourself before you tie the knot can save you a world of hurt, a hefty divorce dollar, and a lifetime of anger and bitterness.
Those pheromones and other love chemicals are great. They make us feel happy and content and initially bind us together so we can have long-term relationships, but it will take more than a feel-good dump into your brain and body to maintain a long-lasting, healthy relationship. It will take a lot of patience and sacrifice, empathy and understanding, and getting to know who you really are and why you react the way you do. Sometimes this can be done through self-study and self-help books and sometimes it takes more. Like walking alongside a professional who can shine the light safely into the darkness of yesterday.
However you decide to heal from the past, start that journey today … it might just save your marriage or your next relationship. Don’t dive into a romantic relationship until you’ve done your work and figured out your triggers and where they really come from. It’s good self-care not to ignore who you really are. Controlling others is an illusion that leads to heartache. Remember, you can only change yourself.