1 ROMANTIC LOVE
A relationship generally starts with a powerful physical and emotional attraction, says Suzanne Harrill, author of Enlightening Cinderella: Beyond The Prince Charming Fantasy (Findhorn Press). Your brain is saturated with endorphins (happy hormones) that create sensations of exhilaration and wellbeing. Helen Fisher, a biochemistry researcher at Rutgers University in the US, says in the ‘attraction phase’ the neurotransmitter dopamine (also activated by cocaine and nicotine) plays a role, adrenaline gets your heart racing and serotonin ‘may send you temporarily insane’. In this charged, emotional state, you project your ideals of the perfect mate onto your partner and you may seem to be his, because you’re both on your best behaviour.
2 POWER STRUGGLE
As the chemical high dips and infatuation fades, you see each other clearly and flaws emerge. You fall out of ‘romantic love’ (but not ‘real love’, which develops with time) and try to mould each other. Fights start – or you avoid areas of conflict and drift apart.
3 ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT
By learning to fight constructively and negotiate, you develop new understanding and strengthen your bond. ‘Making peace with yourself over the loss of idealistic fantasies can take years,’ says Harrill. ‘It depends on you level of self-awareness and your willingness to surrender control.’ Again, chemicals may play a part. Fisher says: ‘Prairie voles (a small rodent) bond for the long term and studies have shown that chemicals released after they mate (vasopressin and oxytocin) promote this. When the male voles were given a drug to suppress vasopressin, the bond weakened, they lost their devotion and they failed to protect their mate from new suitors.’ So the theory is that more sex could deepen your bond.