Archive | January 2014

The psychology of our lasting love

The Psychology of Love, Sex, Orgasms and more

On the 8th of August my partner and I celebrated our fifteen year anniversary. We had planned to drive over to Blackpool for a weekend away once my partner had finished work. Whilst I waited for his shift to end I began to discuss with one of his colleagues ‘how difficult it was not to rush over and give him a big hug and kiss’, I told her that ‘he was my best friend and that I had missed him all day, that I had felt anxious and had a strong desire to be in physical contact with him, despite only seeing him that morning’. She said ‘wow, it is very rare to still have those feelings after so long together’. During the long drive to our weekend retreat I began to ponder her words: What was the secret to our lasting and…

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The psychology of our lasting love

On the 8th of August my partner and I celebrated our fifteen year anniversary. We had planned to drive over to Blackpool for a weekend away once my partner had finished work. Whilst I waited for his shift to end I began to discuss with one of his colleagues ‘how difficult it was not to rush over and give him a big hug and kiss’, I told her that ‘he was my best friend and that I had missed him all day, that I had felt anxious and had a strong desire to be in physical contact with him, despite only seeing him that morning’. She said ‘wow, it is very rare to still have those feelings after so long together’. During the long drive to our weekend retreat I began to ponder her words: What was the secret to our lasting and loving relationship, I wondered why we were so different when research suggests that relationship breakdowns are the most common among people who grew up in a divorced household, are from a low socio-economic group and who are young partners (Duck, 1988) all of which describe my partner and I, and yet we are still happy and very much in love.

Love can be explained by dividing it into two very basic categories; romantic and companionate (Hatfield, 1988). Romantic love has been described as having similar physiological effects as alcohol or marijuana (Baumeister, 1991) causing feelings of anxiety, jealousy, elation, altruism and joy, all overwhelming the senses at once (Bersceid & Walster, 1978). These feelings of intense and often uncontrollable emotions are short lived and in most successful relationships companionate love takes over (Caspi & Herbener, 1990; Hatfeild, 1988; Neimeyer, 1984). It could be suggested that our relationship has reached the pinnacle of Sternberg’s triangle of love model; consummate love (Sternberg & Barns, 1988). My partner could be described as my best friend –who I find extremely sexually attractive, yet at home we are a team; sharing money, childcare and the household chores. Sternberg believes that for a relationship to reach the deepest state of love there must be intimacy, passion and commitment: all of which describe our relationship. Our commitment to each other began when our parents tried to keep us apart as young lovers: The Romeo-and-Juliet effect (Driscoll, Davis & Lipetz, 1972). Until only recently I was unaccepted into my partners’ family, rather than this having a negative effect to the relationship it seems to have brought us closer together.

From our early beginnings we have been close friends who ensured that our lives were entwined as though we are one. This companionate side to our relationship could be defined in evolutionary terms as a bond which would greatly improve the chances of our offspring surviving (Hazan, Campa, & Gur-Yaish, 2006; Fletcher, 2002). Our relationship roles could play an important role in the success of our lasting relationship too, as Murstein’s (1976; 1986; 1987) stimulus-value-role theory suggests: Relationships invariantly pass through three stages; stimulus stage-when initial attraction is based on physical attributes as Green, Buchanan and Heuer (1984) agree, the value stage-when similarity and values become important with supporting research from Kandel (1978), Tesser, Cambell and smith (1984), and finally the role stage emphasises the importance of commitment and the acquiring of supporting roles. The roles which each of us has taken complement the other well and yield great rewards within the relationship, according to social exchange theory our relationship benefits because we are well matched in our abilities to reward the other partner, or at the very least we believe that no one could reward us as well as our current partner (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Homans (1974) goes further to say that we judge our feelings about the relationship in terms id the reward less the cost: The higher the emotional profit, the happier the relationship.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that each theory and model in part can explain elements to our relationship, but there is not one single theory which can explain why we are still together and in love fully, highlighting the very complicated nature of love and modern relationships. However, the best description for the love I feel for my partner comes from Fromm’s (1962) description of true-love: True-love being defined as a giving love. Mike (my very much adored partner) and I are a communal couple who as Clark and Mills (1979) posit give out of love and concern and not to receive, perhaps this is the reason why we remain blissfully happy. 

 References

 Baumeister, R. (1991). Meaning of Life. New York: Guilford Press

Bersceid, E., & Walster, E.M. (1978). Interpersonal attraction (second edition) Reading, MA: Adison-Wesley.

Caspi, A., & Herbener, E. S. (1990). Continuity and change: Assortative marriage and the consistency of personality in adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 250.

Clark, M. S., & Mills, J. (1979). Interpersonal attraction in exchange and communal relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 37(1), 12.

Clark, M. S., & Mils, J. (1993). The difference between communal and exchange relationships: What it is and is not. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19(6), 684-691.

Driscoll, R., Davis, K. E., & Lipetz, M. E. (1972). Parental interference and romantic love: The Romeo and Juliet effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(1), 1.

Duck, S. (1988). Relating to others. Dorsey Press.

Fletcher, G. (2008). The new science of intimate relationships. Wiley. com.

Green, S. K., Buchanan, D. R., & Heuer, S. K. (1984). Winners, Losers, and Choosers A Field Investigation of Dating Initiation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 10(4), 502-511.

Hatfield, E. (1988). Passionate and compassionate love.

Homans, G. C. (1974). Social behaviour: Its elementary forms. Taylor & Francis.

Kandel, D. B. (1978). Similarity in real-life adolescent friendship pairs. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(3), 306.

Murstein, B. I. (1977). The stimulus-value-role (SVR) theory of dyadic relationships. Theory and practice in interpersonal attraction, 105-127.

Murstein, B. I. (1986). Paths to marriage. Newbury Park, California: Sage publications.

Murstein, B. I. (1987). A clarification and extension of the SVR theory of dyadic pairing. Journal of Marriage and Family, 49(4), 929-933.

Neimeyer, G. J. (1984). Cognitive complexity and marital satisfaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2(3), 258-263.

Sternberg, R. J., & Barnes, M. L. (Eds.). (1988). The psychology of love. Yale University Press.

Tesser, A., Campbell, J., & Smith, M. (1984). Friendship choice and performance: Self-evaluation maintenance in children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(3), 561.

Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups.

 

The Female Orgasm: The Light Switch of Love?

Welcome to my third and final instalment of the series titled The Female Orgasm. If you have been following my two previous blogs, you will by now, be very aware that orgasm as a reward is the single most reported incentive which motivates sexual intercourse (SI) (Deckers, 2010). The evidence presented has shown that both males and females rate orgasm as their primary reason for engaging in SI (Meston & Buss, 2007; Deckers, 2010). My previous blog Nice… But Not Needed established that women aged 18-22 rated ‘feelings of romantic love’ as the second biggest motivator of SI (Meston & Buss, 2007). Thinking back further to Her Incentive… or His we saw evidence that women were not reaching orgasm during 92% of copulations (Lloyd, 2005). As so many women fail to reach orgasm during SI and despite that being their primary motivator it seems clear that feelings of love must drive behaviour much more than the women in the studies are actually aware of. The primary aims of the present blog are to uncover what romantic love is, to find evidence of its existence and to conclude with evidence which could shed light on why romantic love is such a potent motivator for SI.

‘I love my mum’, ‘I love my children’, ‘I love my new partner and all the great sex we are having’: three plausible sentences to an English speaker, but if the reader were asked to write down a definition that could be applied to all three sentences – he would struggle claims Sukel (2012). In 1996 thirty-eight credible neurobiologists penned the first accepted scientific definition of love “Love is a lifelong learning process that starts with the relationship of the infant to his or her mother and the gradual withdrawal from the mother with a search for emotional comfort and fulfilment” McEwen (1997). Upon the definition being revealed during a presentation named Is There a Neurobiology of Love? a flurry of neuroscientists began looking into the brain to see if love was an observable entity. Most notably came a study from Bartles and Zeki (2000) which sought to identify which areas of the brain are activated when participants were shown a photograph of their partner –who they claimed to be very much in love with- as compared with a photograph of a friend who was the same sex as their lover. Seventeen participants of mixed gender were placed into an fMRI-scanner and shown the photographs. The neural activity which could be attributed to recognition was discounted and the scientists were left with what could be the neural blueprint of romantic love. The strongest activation was seen in the left middle insular, an area which governs self awareness, emotion and inter-personal relationships; the anterior cingulated cortex also showed a strong activation, an area linked to decision making, reward anticipation and emotion. Activation was also seen in areas involved in learning and memory such as the hippocampus, caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens and putamen. In a second study Fisher, Aron, Mashek and Brown (2002) asked ‘in-love’ participants to think about their loved one in a non-sexual way, the activation overlapped with findings from the Bartles and Zeki study. Fisher suggests that for the first time scientists are seeing ‘what romantic love looks like’ (Fisher, 2002).

Romantic love has similar neural activation as that seen with cocaine posits Zeki (as cited in Sukel, 2012). A dose of cocaine is known to have an effect on the neural reward pathways in the brain and cause the individual to ‘crave’ more (Linden, 2011). The same pattern could be true of romantic love hypothesise Aron and Aron (1991). Romantic love has been shown in numerous studies to engage the motivational system (Brown 1992; Lidsky, & Brown, 1999), this includes the neural systems which are associated with ‘motivation to acquire a reward’ in contrast to the previous consideration that romantic love was an emotion (Bartles & Zeki, 2000). If romantic love is not an emotion but is in fact a goal oriented state, we can describe romantic love as a motivational drive much the same as hunger or thirst. Being motivated to engaging in SI by the lure of feelings of romantic love can now be understood in scientific terms as a strong incentive. Interestingly when comparing the activation seen in orgasm and romantic love there appear similarities. During orgasm the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain implicated strongly in romantic love and the hippocampus, known for its involvement with memory becomes activated. Fisher (2002) hypotheses that orgasm may in fact contribute to falling in love and strengthen pair bonding.

In conclusion love can now be identified as a lifelong learning process which scientists are now able to observe and measure using the very latest neuroimaging techniques. However study findings which rely on neuroimaging measures are bound by measurement limitations such as time and accuracy. Nevertheless, scientists are in agreement that a brain which is in romantic love shows neural activation very similar to the neural activation of cocaine. Recent studies are hinting at the possibility that romantic love is a powerful motivational drive, which is responsible for motivating SI in younger females at the very least. Many more studies are required on the area of sexual motivation before scientists can show that orgasm and romantic love are inexplicitly linked.

References

Aron, A., & Aron, E.N. (1991) Love and sexuality. Sexuality in Close Relationships, 25–48.

Bartles, A. & Zeki, S. (2000). The neural basis of romantic love. Neuroreport, 11(17), 3829-3834.

Brown, L. L. (1992). Somatotopic organization in rat striatum: evidence for a combinational map.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 89(16), 7403-7407. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/89/16/7403.short

Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: Biological, Psychological, and Environmental. Allyn and Bacon.

Fisher, H..E. (1998) Lust, attraction, and attachment in mammalian reproduction. Human Nature 9: 23–52.

Fisher, H.E, Aron, A, Mashek, D. Li. H, & Brown, L.L. (2002). Defining the brain systems of lust, romantic attraction, and attachment. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 31(5), 413-419

Lidsky, T. I., & Brown, L. L. (1999). Behavioural context and a distributed system: Metabolic mapping studies of the basal ganglia. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie expérimentale,53(1), 35.

Linden, D. J. (2011).The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. Penguin. com.

Lloyd, E.F. (2005). The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

McEwen, B. (1997). Meeting report: Is there a neurobiology of love? Molecular Psychiatry, 2(1), 15-16.

Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior,;36(4), 477-507. Retrieved from http://www.homepage.psy.utexas.edu/HomePage/Group/BussLAB/pdffiles/why%20humans%20have%20sex%202007.pdf

Sukel, K. (2012). Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships. Free Press. NY