The biology of love

Alex Grey

Alex Grey

Have you ever had the experience of getting home from work to find your partner in a bad mood, and before you know it you are in a bad mood? There is a reason for this. In relationships where we expect the other person to meet our needs, there is a biological hardwiring going on beyond our emotions.

Like an infant and it’s mother, we have a physiological response to our partner, not just an emotional one. Our blood pressure and heart rate responds to theirs when we’re in close proximity.

The physiological mirroring that happens in attachments means that although we can do breathing techniques and leave the room in times of stress, it’s actually quite difficult not to be affected by our partner’s physiological and emotional state.

From our infancy, attachment shifts our biology. It starts with attachment to our mother, until we form new attachments with people we expect to meet our needs, such as a romantic partner. There are three attachment styles:

Secure attachment

Secure attachments are formed when infants and children feel that their needs – both physical and emotional – are being met by their caregiver. The caregiver is emotionally available to the child, and the child feels emotionally safe and assured in the caregiver’s awareness of their needs and ability to meet them.

Avoidant attachment

Avoidant attachments often happen when the child perceives that the caregiver is emotionally unavailable. They feel that their needs are likely to be rejected, so they often repress their needs and emotions and withdraw. Caregivers who are dismissive of their child’s needs can create emotional distance and influence the likelihood that the child will isolate themselves when they need emotional support later in life.

Anxious attachment

Anxious attachments develop when the child senses that the mother is not available or physically present to meet their needs. This can happen even with parents who are emotionally available and responsive to the child when they are around. The perception of absence can contribute to a fear of abandonment in the child’s later years and future attachments.

Research has shown that the hypothalamus in the brain becomes activated when we’re stressed, and that this affect can be moderated and lessened by the presence of a loved one. This research suggests that we are programmed to be attached – not alone – and that our sense of being alone provokes stress.

Being aware of the intricacy of attachment and love can help you more clearly understand how you and your partner shape each other’s sense of well-being and emotional safety. Your awareness can bring you a deeper understanding of both your partner and yourself, as you work through the emotions and issues that will come up for you in your relationship.

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