The Science of Schmoopy
Recently my partner Natasha and I were reflecting on how uncomfortable we are in our present situation.
Things are going way too well.
We’re at a particular point in our lives together where things are relatively stable. After many years of struggling financially, geographically, and emotionally, we’re in a space where we aren’t having many disagreements, and when we do, we have worked out constructive ways to resolve them. Add to this the fact that we find ourselves feeling more in love as time goes on, and it’s way outside of our comfort zones, either in our own relationship or ones we’ve had in the past.
I’m not going to pretend to know what’s really going on, much less suggest that you could duplicate it if you wanted. However, I’m pretty certain that the layman’s study of love that I’ve been doing for the past few years has something to do with it. Here are a few of the practices that help us both love better, with scientific research to back them up. Take them as you like, and if you have something even more effective, please share in the comments!
Five Techniques to Better Loving
1. Eat more chocolate. “Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax,” – Julie Damp, M.D. If that’s not enough to make you think about love, there’s also the fact that there’s also Phenylethylamine (PEA) in dark chocolate, which according to love researcher Helen Fisher, stimulates the part of the brain “…that makes dopamine, a natural stimulant, and sends it out to many brain religions when one is in love.” Apparently other activities that do this kind of thing are skydiving and cocaine. Personally, I would rather develop a dark chocolate habit instead.
2. Hug More: Ok, so we know that oxytocin is a pretty happy-making hormone (with a dash of jealousy and possessiveness thrown in for spice). But until they sell it in over-the-counter nasal sprays, how can you get a hit of it when you need it? Turns out hugging is the thing. Here’s a tip you can use right away: in order to get that oxytocin flowing you need eight hugs a day, if not more. If that sounds like it might go beyond “friendly” and into “creepy” range, on Monday we’ll let you know how to make it less so.
3. Exercise together: The whole idea of having public accountability to help you maintain an exercise habit is old news. However, if multitasking is your thing, you can both work on your relationship and your body if you find an exercise you enjoy doing with your partner. According to a University of Arkansas study, “exercise frequency was attributed to enhanced feelings of attractiveness and increased energy levels—both of which can increase sexual desirability and performance,” among other benefits. The accountability factor works even better: only 6.3% of married couples who exercised together dropped out of their routine, as opposed to 43% of those who exercised apart.
4. Eye Gazing: Spend two minutes a day looking into their eyes, you will feel significantly more affection for the other person. In fact, research has shown a significant increase in “feelings of passionate love, dispositional love, and liking for their partner.” And that was between randomly-selected opposite sex strangers. Imagine what it might do to you if you actually like the person.
5. Journaling. There’s a lot of reasons to journal, including many direct health benefits. In terms of loving, though, here’s the thing: loving is hard sometimes. It has bumps, travails, and your brain chemicals (as listed above) can make things seem much worse than they are. If you keep a journal, it “…removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.”- Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP. In other words, it helps you figure stuff out.
Further Stimulating Discussion:
The always-delightful Brain Pickings has some solid recommendations for further reading on Love and the Brain. ASAP Science also has a pretty neat little video that gives a good overview of the whole neurochemistry of love as well: