August 1, 2017
The Science of Passionate Relationships
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This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.
The Science of Passionate Relationships
Well, Hello there. This is your friendly neighborhood sexologist. Jessica O’Reilly of Sex with Dr. Jess, and I have been absent for some time, and I have to apologize. I have been traveling from country to country. I was in four Asian countries over the course of eight days. I was in the States, I was in the Caribbean working my butt off, and I’ve fallen behind. And what I’ve learned so far from my very brief entry into the podcasting world is that it is very easy to start a podcast, and it is quite the challenge to keep it going. But I really do enjoy recording these podcasts and getting your feedback and hearing from you. So I want to keep it going, even though I’ve definitely let you down over the last few weeks. I am sure your life has been just amazing, but with this deep, dark black hole without my podcast, no, I am sure you have survived anyhow I am back. Happy to be back. I’m in Toronto today just for a couple days before I head back on the road heading to Portugal. And today I want to talk about one of my favorite topics, probably one of the most important theories you can understand about passion in relationships, how to have more passionate relationships from the boardroom to the bedroom. And this is the core of a lot of the work that I am doing on the road. So yeah, I’m a sexologist. I talk about the sex once in a while. I have the sex. But really, we spend most of our time talking about relationships and passion because sex is easy. As I always say, a monkey can do the techniques. But how do you stay with someone and like them enough to still want to do it after years and years of being together, of marriage or relationships. So in terms of passion, in terms of injecting passion into your relationship, I have some very specific strategies for you, and I also have a handout that you can download as well from my website, Sex withdoctorjet. Com and the podcast page. And these strategies, I’m going to share them with you today. But of course, there are dozens and dozens more.
These strategies are rooted in science and really totally doable. Some only take a minute and they make a difference. But before we get into the specifics of how to reignite passion in your relationships first, we need to understand the science of passion and passionate love, because love is a science from a chemical perspective, it’s not an art. It really is a scientific neurological process. You know, when you first meet someone and you’re into them, you want a piece of them, you want to see them, you want to touch them, you just want to get your claws into them. You want them naked and waiting and ready for you. And it is a powerful feeling, and you are just wild about them. And you like everything about them. You know that feeling, but then you get to know them. Ha ha ha. Yes. And inevitably, after you get to know them, that desire shifts, the love changes. And that’s because there are two distinct phases involved in love. The first passionate love, that phase I just described is full of intensity. And then the second phase, companion or attachment love follows. So we’ve got passionate love and then attachment love. Now, during the first phase of love, passionate love, also referred to as Liverance, your brain and body experience a rush of feel good chemicals responding to cues from your brain from another part of your brain. The pituitary gland releases dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, norepinephrine. These levels spike and norepinephrine fills you with piercing energy. It’s why you feel you don’t need to sleep. Serotonin gives you a boost in self confidence with this new person. You think you can take on the world and dopamine makes almost everything feel pleasurable. Life is good. This phase of love feels so good that the high of passionate love is so powerful that when researchers examine the brain activations of people who are newly in love, they see similar activity to the brains of drug users, cocaine users, crack users. It is that good. Now, that doesn’t mean that love is addictive. That’s for a different discussion. But what it means is that this love cannot last. It cannot last because this high makes you irrational. When your neurotransmitters are destabilized by new romantic love, your mood is unsteady. You don’t make wise decisions because you’re infatuated and you make all of your decisions based on this new, shiny, seemingly perfect object of your affection. Now, Luckily, I know that passionate love sounds amazing, and you think, oh, I’d love to always feel that way, but no. Luckily, this passionate love eventually transitions to companionate or attachment love somewhere between six and 18 months into the relationship. And of course, those numbers can shift. They’re not hard and fast rules.
So during the second phase, this final stage of love, you lose some or most of that natural passion because of the chemical shift in the body, you lose that untamed love and feeling, not because you’re not in love anymore and not because you’re not meant to be. There’s no such thing as meant to be, by the way, but because of a simple chemical shift from dopamine adrenaline, serotonin, norepinephrine to the bonding hormones, vasopressin and oxytocin. Now, these hormones and bonding is not the only thing they do. I’m kind of oversimplifying here, but these bonding hormones are really essential to staying together and staying together is more important than the passion. I think we can agree on that. You can’t always have passion, but you can always have care and respect and companionship. So oxytocin and vasopressin bond parent to child, for example, through breastfeeding and cuddling and kissing. And they’re so essential to bonding in mammals that without them, we don’t stay together in animal experiments with, like, Prairie moles. When they suppress the vasopressin levels, parents will actually abandon their young, abandon their families. That’s how intense the chemical process is to love. So attachment. Love is also a chemical process, and it’s not actually that difficult to cultivate. You got to be nice to each other. You need to be affectionate. You have to show gratitude. You have to be considerate. It is very doable. For most couples. Passionate love, on the other hand, is more of a challenge. And I believe this challenge exists because we ignore the chemicals associated with passion because therapists, for instance, are so hung up on attachment, they tell their clients say, I love you. Look her in the eye, hold hands and breathe and sink. Thank him for being such a good father. Tell her how much you appreciate that. She screws the cat back on the pickle jar, because when she doesn’t and you pull the pickle jar out, it drops and breaks. Yes, I’ve done. That totally my fault. All right. I’m exaggerating. Yes. You need to do all these things. You need to say thanks. You need to offer appreciation. You need to kiss. You need to touch. You need to make eye contact. These gestures will deepen companionate love. But here’s the problem here’s where they fall short. They say all this, they have you do all these things, and then they claim, if you do these things, the sex and the passion will follow. No, the sex and the passion will not follow. Thanking me for hanging up the bath mat and not leaving the last two drops in the milk carton. No, that does not make me want to have sex with you. Sex and passion follow oftentimes when you activate dopamine adrenaline serotonin. I’m not saying that being kind to me doesn’t make me want to be close to you and may not lead to sex. It absolutely can. And if that’s your experience, that’s perfect, it’s your experience. And it’s far more valid than the science itself. But in most cases, passion is drawn from these distinct chemicals, not from being just nice to each other. So the way you activate passion chemicals isn’t by getting along. These are chemicals that are actually activated by novelty, unpredictability anticipation, fear of the unknown, curiosity, nervousness challenge. Even the fear of rejection and discord can lead to passion, kindness, gratitude, harmony, consideration, affection, respect, reliability. They are essential to a lasting relationship. These things are the foundation of companionate love and companion or attachment. Love comprises the bulk of your relationship. Yes, they are indispensable. But we’re talking about passion here. If you want passion, you have to have unpredictability. You have to do things that make you nervous. You have to push your comfort zone, not just theoretically, like people who say, oh, I’m really good at pushing my comfort zone. No. Emotionally, physically, practically. If you are uncomfortable with a topic like sexual frequency or sexual fantasy, for example, you have to talk about it. If something makes you feel scared or nervous, pushing through a little can lead to passion. If your partner is curious about something and you’re not into it or it’s a turn off, you still need to consider it. At least talk about it. In order to spark passion, you’ve got to do things that scare you.
The happiest couples I know are the ones who put themselves in uncomfortable environments. They lean into fights and disagreements. They go to nude beaches, they go to an art exhibit that pisses them off or makes them uncomfortable. They go to a sex club. They may not participate, for instance, at the sex club, but they show up in these environments where tension and anxiety can run high help to spark passion because of the adrenaline, and they also enhance attachment because you get through a scary experience together. So there’s your formula. You’ve got to do things that are scary and get through it together, and then you’ve got passion and attachment. So when I hear people say, oh, I’m not into that. All right, I hear you. You don’t have to be into everything. I’m not into everything either. But if you shut it down without considering what’s the underlying fear? What’s my underlying insecurity? What’s my underlying piece of closedmindedness that stops me from being into this? If you don’t even consider that you’re going to have a difficult time sparking passion, anything you can do that is scary. But in a controlled, safe environment is probably a good passion producing activity. From bungee jumping to swimming with Sharks to Helly skiing and skydiving. These are things that are going to get you adrenaline up and you need to do them with your partner. But physically, those are the easy things, right. Going and doing something physically challenging is so obvious. But are you also doing things that challenge you emotionally? Are you talking about jealousy? Insecurity, vulnerability? We all feel vulnerable. We all feel insecure. We all feel jealous at times. So are you confronting, exploring these feelings or are you running from them? Are you saying things like, oh, no, I never feel jealous. You can’t eradicate emotion. We all feel happy at times. We all feel sad at times. We all feel powerful at times, and we all feel sorry. We’re vulnerable at times. So you’ve got physically challenging activities, emotionally challenging exercise. And are you building anticipation in your relationship if you want passion, anticipation is key. Dopamine is often referred to as the pleasure chemical, but it’s actually an anticipation chemical. We know from studies with animals when they’re learning to press a button and get a treat. The dopamine levels are actually twice as high when you’re anticipating a reward as when you actually receive and reap the benefits of that reward. So you can build anticipation by surprising your partner in any way, by teasing them, by being playful, by being mysterious, by not telling them every damn detail of your day. They’re not interested in what traffic was like on the way to work. Yeah, we know traffic sucks or that you ordered a sandwich this morning. You asked them not to put Mayo on it and they put Mayo on your sandwich, cut these conversations out and you’ll have more passion and refocus your conversations into those that actually excite you with your partner. What do you talk about on Date Night? Do you talk about the kids, your work, your schedules, money, or do you talk about your big dreams, your profound fears, your philosophies? When you go on a first 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 10th date, you try to seem interesting, exciting cultured, multi dimensional. But when you go on Date night, you don’t prepare. Passionate conversations are one way to ignite the spark. You have probably heard of the 36 questions to Fall in Love With anyone. 36 questions from researchers Aaron and Aaron. Do them on Date night instead of talking about your job. So if you put 36 questions into any app store, it will be the first thing to pop up. If you put 36 questions into Google, it will be the first thing to pop up. It’ll probably say 36 questions to fall in love with anyone, which is not what they were designed to do. Basically, this was a study where they put people in the lab strangers and they had them ask and answer these 36 questions to see if they could generate interpersonal closeness in a short period of time. And what happened was two of the people ended up falling in love and inviting the lab researchers to the wedding. So the New York Times many years later, ran the headline 36 Questions to Fall In Love With Anyone, so I’ll leave them here for a download, but you can get them anywhere. So some of these questions might involve if you could have dinner with anyone in history, whom would you choose or what is one thing you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t and why not? And you can even come up with your own questions. Like, who is your celebrity crush? Or if I were to seduce you tomorrow night, how would you want me to do it? The idea is you’re talking about things that are new. This simple exercise can reignite passion because you are bound to learn something new about your partner. My husband and I did this one a few years ago while we were on vacation. It’s divided into three sections of twelve questions each. So we did twelve questions each night at dinner. And I think we’d been married for about 14 years or together for 14 years at the time. And I was so surprised how much I don’t know about him. It certainly made him all the more interesting. And I know if we were to do it again today, our answers would be different because there’s always something new to discover. So passionate conversations are one way to make your relationship more exciting. So I’ve got a few other simple ways to boost those chemicals. Dopamine adrenaline serotonin. As I said, there’s a handout you can download, but I’m going to highlight some of my favorites. The first is doing a 62nd favorite every single day for your partner. And these are tiny gestures that everyone can afford to do from a cost and time perspective. When you go out of your way to make your partner feel important, they get a serotonin boost. And this is the psychology behind restaurants, for instance, that give you something small for free. They give you a little dessert or a coffee or a lemon cello shot.
You feel important when somebody does that, and so you go back time and time again. Next, if you want more passion in your relationship, you need to stop complaining, especially about your body. Body image is contagious, and you can’t say like, oh, I want my partner to make me feel sexy. And Meanwhile, you’re complaining about your thighs. That’s a whole other podcast topic, and there’s some really great books out there. But limiting your complaints to 60 seconds a day if you can Whittle your way down is a life changer. Other things to boost your passion in your relationship. Well, you have to talk about the three F’s so sexual frequencies, sexual fantasy and your chorotic feeling. And you can go back to the previous podcast on chorotic feeling. If you haven’t listened yet, that’s an important one. Retelling the story of how you met or visiting an old stomping ground from your early years together. Recalling fond, sweet, or even erotic memories can trigger those same feel good chemicals you experienced in the beginning. So sometimes in my workshops, I use that as an ice breaker. People get into threesomes and they just tell the story of how they met their partner. And it’s a good way of just getting your mindset back to perhaps a simpler time and certainly a more romantic time. And then finally, if you want more passion in your relationships, you need to fix your Greetings and goodbyes. How do you say Hello and goodbye to your partner when they walk in? Do you just look up from your laptop and runs? Oh, hey, or do you take the dog approach when I come in that night? My dog is. This is my dog. Hi. So excited to see you. I’m so excited to see you. The greatest thing ever. I want to kiss you. I want to kiss you. That’s how my dog greets me. So my husband’s got to compete with that. Maybe not quite be a dog. But we do have research showing that men who kiss their partners goodbye live an average of five years longer and have a 50% reduced risk of car accidents. So it’s correlational, not causal. But the data is interesting nonetheless. So simple ways to boost your limyrance chemicals could be going to a haunted house, taking a tour of a dungeon. They’re all across the world. These BDSM and sex Dungeons, sharing a story from your past that you’ve never shared daydreaming about retirement or winning the lottery together, anything that lets you escape from your reality. Are you doing these things and you can sit here and say, those are good ideas. But what are you going to do to actually make behavioral change today? These are nice ideas. I think most people say, okay, yeah, that’s a good idea. That’s a good idea. I do that. But do you really do it? Because I find myself even though I’m always teaching all of these things, sometimes I sit back and look at my relationship and I say, oh, my goodness, I’m not doing them. I know I should do them, but knowing is not half the battle. Knowing is like 1% of the battle. I’ve got to actually do them. So the first step to passionate relationships involves understanding and accepting that passion does not arise naturally in long term relationships. You have to cultivate it. You have to enact a chemical response and you will feel it again. I hear people often complain that they’re no longer in love, and they just don’t feel the same way as they used to about their partners. Yeah. No kidding. You’re not supposed to feel the same way. You’re not on drugs unless you do something to make yourself feel that way. And that is the second step. So first, you know the science, and Secondly, you just got to do it. Adjust your behavior to boost these chemicals. Make a commitment now to do one new thing today. One thing come up with some questions to ask them. Plan a 62nd favor. Do something to change the way you interact with them or the way you look or the way you come on to them or the way you greet them or the way you say goodbye. Put a note in your calendar to do it. Tell your assistant to put it in your calendar if you’ve got one, I mean, get it done because you can have passion. You can have passion in your relationships 10, 20, 30 years. And if you’re willing to cultivate it, it’s not just about being nice to one or another. Yeah, you got to do that. You have to be nice, too. But it’s about creating space for change, challenge, fear, excitement and the unknown. I’m going to leave you with that and implore you to make that one change today. And if you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I’m at sex with Dr. Jeff. So if you are up for it, let me know what you plan on doing, because I know that a lot of my listeners and friends online are definitely doers. So be a doer and get it done. Thanks so much, folks. You’ll hear from me again next week, I promise.