What do you do if you love your partner, but you are no longer in love with your partner? Does the feeling of love transform or change over time? In his new book Principa Amoris: The New Science of Love, Dr. John Gottman explains that there are actually three natural phases of love. His research has shown that being in love is a very complex experience, and he has identified choice points in the life course when love may either progress to a deeper place, or deteriorate. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will examine what happens to love in a lifetime, and what factors determine our experience of love.
Phase 1: Falling in Love – Limerence
In 1979, Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” for this stage of love, characterized by physical symptoms (flushing, trembling, palpitations), excitement, intrusive thinking, obsession, fantasy, sexual excitement, and the fear of rejection. In Dr. Theresa Crenshaw’s book The Alchemy of Love and Lust, it is clear that not just anyone can set off the cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that accompanies the exciting first phase of love. The person we select has to smell right, feel right, look right, and be just right in our arms. Then, and only then, will the cascade get started.
Here is a partial list of chemicals that exert an enormous influence on Phase 1:
- Phenyleteylamine (PEA) is a natural form of amphetamine our bodies produce and has been called “the molecule of love.”
- Pheromones, produced from DHEA, influence sensuality rather than sexuality, creating an inexplicable sense of well-being and comfort.
- Ocytocin has been called “the cuddle hormone.” It compels us to get close, and when we are feeling close (to anyone) we secrete it. It is secreted by the posterior pituitary gland, and stimulates the secretion of dopamine, estrogen, LHRH, and vasopressin.
The cascade of “in-love” hormones and neurotransmitters of Phase 1 is highly selective and multifaceted in the experience of love and limerance. It is also generally accompanied by poor judgment, so that people will ignore the red flags that they will inevitably confront in Phase 2 of love.