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Love’s like an addiction. That is to say—at first. New love can feel like a giddy and blissful infatuation. The birds sing louder, the sun shines brighter, and all is right in the world. But the passion of a new romance inevitably dissipates over time. As a relationship progresses, the exhilaration of falling in love is gradually replaced by a sense of content commitment.
Scientists describe the process of falling in love in three stages: it begins with lust, becomes an attraction, and progresses to an attachment. I’ve heard the process described as if it has a beginning and an end, but I would hope that we cycle through all of these stages—again and again—with our partner over time.
Valentine’s Day showcases romance and compels us to assess the relationships in our lives. Are we happy? Fulfilled? Stuck? Complacent? Have we been spending too much time in one of the three stages of love and not investing enough energy into the others? We might be silently asking ourselves—how can we reignite the euphoria that we felt when we first fell in love?
I’m no marriage counselor, relationship coach, or psychotherapist. I only say that love progresses through three distinct stages because anthropologists and scientists have said so. I’m most intrigued that each stage is marked by characteristic feelings and neurochemicals.
The rest of this article dives into the neurochemistry of love. We’ll look at the chemicals at play during each of the stages of falling in love and explore science-backed ways to cultivate more lust, attraction, and attachment—in our relationships and life.
Stage 1: Lust
Lust is a craving for sexual satisfaction. There is a desire to seduce or to be seduced. In this stage, the connection is less about emotions and more about physical attraction. Although lust is typically described as the first stage of falling in love, anthropologist Helen Fisher maintains that love can begin at any stage.
The hormones that predominate during lust are estrogen and testosterone. Also, pheromones are released from the pores, sending subtle signals to the other person.
Cultivating more lust in a relationship is complicated. This is the most primal of the stages, and its biological underpinnings are similar to other species in nature. Because of the roles of testosterone and estrogen, you might consider checking with a doctor to be sure you have healthy hormonal balance. Scientists have also found that you can inspire a more physical connection with your partner if you flirt, gaze into each other’s eyes, and move your bodies in sync to stand face-to-face.
Science-Backed Ways to Feel More Lust
Stage 2: Attraction
The phase of attraction is similar to what I described at the beginning of this article. There is a sense of euphoria, bliss, and infatuation. You might have a burst of energy, be more productive than usual, and be sleepless from excitement. Sometimes this is called the “honeymoon” phase.
The neurochemicals that predominate during attraction are adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine. Adrenaline is a stress chemical that makes your heart race and your face flush. Noradrenaline promotes focus and alertness. Dopamine is a pleasure chemical that is associated with happiness and addiction. This perfect storm of neurochemicals explains why people crave the “high” of falling in love.
There are dozens of ways to promote the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine—some healthy and others unhealthy. Cocaine, gambling, and sugar (to name a few unhealthy examples) are notorious for boosting dopamine. Healthier ways to boost dopamine include meditating, exercising, listening to music, and doing something thrilling (try riding a roller coaster without getting a natural high). Even if the phase of attraction in a relationship is fleeting, you can always cultivate that sense of euphoria by participating in healthy, dopamine-boosting activities as a couple.
Science-Backed Ways to Feel More Attraction
Stage 3: Attachment
Attachment brings a sense of emotional bonding, security, and comfort. Attachment can develop in a romantic relationship as well as with other family members and friends. With attachment, you know that your partner will be there by your side through thick and thin.
The hormone that predominates with the feeling of attachment is oxytocin. Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone” because it promotes this sense of a bonded connection with others. Oxytocin is released during breastfeeding, when having sex, and when hugging.
An ability to produce healthy oxytocin levels relies on good nutrition. Petting an animal or getting a massage will boost oxytocin, as will any form of touch. Thanks to oxytocin, the simple act of making physical contact with your partner can promote a sense of attachment.
Science-Backed Ways to Feel More Attachment
10 Science-Backed Ways to Feel More in Love
Science tells us that specific neurochemicals accompany each of the stages of love. We can feel more lust if we flirt, gaze into our partner’s eyes, or stand face-to-face. We can feel more sense of a natural high and attraction if we exercise, meditate, listen to music, or go on a thrill ride. We can trigger the release of oxytocin and feel more bonded to our partner if we eat healthy foods, get a massage, or touch our partner.
10 Science-Backed Ways to Feel More In Love
None of these science-backed ways to feel more in love are miracle cures. If your relationship is suffering, you may need to take more proactive measures. Relationships are messy, complicated, and vulnerable. As I said in the beginning, I’m no psychotherapist—just a medical writer having some fun with neuroscience.
Writing this article pushed me beyond my comfort zone of nutrition, physiology, and research. But that’s okay. Health is more than the food we put in our mouths and the exercises we perform with our bodies. It is a balance of body, mind, emotions, and our relationships with the world around us. I wish you, my readers, a lifetime of love—including all of its miraculous stages and phases.
Sarah Cook, ND
Instructor at Nutrition Therapy Institute
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