Recovering from a Breakup is written by guest contributor Ken Fields. Ken is an online counselor with LiverPerson.
Part 1: The science behind recovering from a breakup
Or jump to Part 2: Tips for getting through a breakup.
Recovering from a Breakup
by Ken Fields
When we’re in love, the world is golden and nothing gets us down. When we are out of love, we are desperate to regain those feelings we had while in love. The desperation can be so intense, we find ourselves thinking and doing things we would be ashamed to tell our best friend. The excitement of falling in love, being in love, is not just a thrilling psychological and emotional experience. It is as well a bio-chemical experience, what might be called a “high,” and there are resemblances to a chemical addiction, and withdrawal, which become evident when we break-up.
Some of the neuro-chemicals in the brain associated with being in, and out, of love are ‘dopamine,’ ‘serotonin,’ ‘neuroepeniphrine,’ ‘adrenaline’ and ‘phenylethylamine.’ Depending on the level of these chemicals in the blood, we can be ecstatic, or terribly depressed. Some research has shown a similarity in blood chemistry and neural activity in regions of the brain between people in the first stages of love, the infatuation phase, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Most people are aware of ‘testosterone’ and ‘estrogen.’ These hormones, along with ‘pheremones’ are largely responsible for sexual attraction. Pheremones are hormones that are excreted or secreted, rather than remain internal. We often find ourselves attracted to (or repelled by) a person based on their scent. That scent is secreted or excreted chemicals, i.e., pheremones, Although pheremones and hormones may ignite the initial spark of a relationship, they aren’t able to maintain a relationship. The hormones ‘oxytocin’ and ‘vasopressin’ are released in the body during the heights and climax of sexual intercourse and reinforce the attachment and bonding that occurs from physical intimacy. If a couple were to meet and fall in love, and then take some medication that dampened these love chemicals, they would find themselves rather indifferent about their affections for each other.
After years, or decades, of marriage, couples fall out of love due in large part to the waning of these chemicals. One or both partners may seek extra marital affairs to again feel the thrilling flow of those hormones through the blood. The despair we experience after a break-up is not because we are estranged from our loved one, but because the love chemicals in the blood are no longer there, they have diminished, or vanished. If those same love chemicals could be injected back into the blood, we would feel more than fine.
A good solid, stable relationship has built up a bond of affection based on the initial stages of love. That stable affection can then in turn reignite feelings of lust and romantic love, which reinforce the stable long-term relationship. In many love relationships, it is the initial thrill and excitement that is of most interest and when that begins to wane, sexual activity can become more adventurous, which can be a good thing; but it can become overly aggressive, and violent, as well. Affairs outside the primary relationship can develop. The term ‘love addiction’ or ‘sex addiction’ are appropriate because of the chemical basis for these obsessions. It is not the wild sex or the affair we are after, it is the chemicals such activities generate in the blood stream.
Many people seek out drugs, either prescribed medications or illegal substances, to help them cope with the despair of withdrawal that often arrives with a break-up or separation. This, of course, makes perfect sense since the feelings of being in love are chemical in nature. Some drugs can dampen the feelings of despair; some drugs can escalate the feelings of euphoria. Neither one of them is a truly satisfactory solution to recovering from a break-up.
Continue to Tips for Getting Through a Breakup.
If you are recovering from a breakup or dealing with a loss in a relationship and would like to chat with Ken about it or send him a question via email, click his LivePerson banner below.
Read our grief counseling interview with Ken Fields.
Return from Recovering from a Breakup to Journey-through-Grief home