Have you ever heard of oxytocin?
Oxytocin is often called the ‘love hormone’ because it is a neurotransmitter that we’re told makes us feel love.
Except it’s actually far more complicated than that. Sure, oxytocin is produced when you look into the eyes of your new child. And it is also produced when your naked skin touches the naked skin of your partner.
But it’s also probably responsible for feelings of heartbreak and homesickness. Oh and salesmen can actually use an oxytocin spray to make us more persuadable!
So oxytocin isn’t so much about love as it is about attachment and social ease. This puts a whole different spin on the neuroscience aspect!
But oxytocin isn’t the only neurotransmitter that will be swimming around in your skull when you’re in a relationship. There are plenty more, including numerous endorphins and hormones.
Serotonin for example is the ‘feel good’ hormone and the more of that you have, the happier you will be. This is important as it’s what will help you to associate positive feelings with your partner and vice versa.
Things that can raise serotonin include exercise, sunlight and smiling.
Yep – just smiling can impact on your mood. This is even true if you don’t mean it! This is due to a psychological phenomenon called ‘facial feedback’.
And what’s more, is that seeing someone else smile can also have a big impact on your mood. The same goes for if you see them grimace…
This basically happens due to the firing of ‘mirror neurons’ in our brain. It’s those mirror neurons that also give us the ability to empathise – pretty important in a relationship.
Serotonin is more complex too though – this neurotransmitter actually gets converted into melatonin, AKA the sleep hormone. So if you’re very happy right now, that might mean that you’ll be very tired later on.
Oh and eating is also directly linked with serotonin. Serotonin is a sign that we’re well fed and the hungrier you are, the less serotonin will be in your brain (which is due to tryptophan being left behind when we absorb food via insulin). Ultimately, this all means that you’re a grump when you haven’t eaten. And this is partly why a lot of arguments happen right after work!
Another problem with coming home after work is that we’re tired. This is bad news because tiredness makes us less forgiving, less empathetic and even less moral!
Resisting temptations and controlling our emotions requires energy and this is finite in quantity. Over time, avoiding flying off the handle or eating our partners’ crisps can take its toll and we start to give in.
Energy is also linked to testosterone, which is linked to sex drive. The more testosterone you have flowing through your veins, the greater your sex drive will be. This is reduced when we’re tired and can also be affected by a number of other things – from what we eat, to how much sunlight we get, to the oral contraceptive pill.
In other words then, your brain is a complex sea of chemicals, any of which can have profound and varied impacts on your mood and your relationship. If you’re feeling angry at your partner or if your sex drive has bottomed out then just remember – it’s not personal, it’s chemical. And thankfully, it’s temporary too!