The science behind love: what are the different stages of love?

Share this

twitter iconfacebook icongoogleplus iconlinkedin icon

Different Stages Of LoveWords: Steve Morrissey

The popular song may say that love is a many-splendored thing, but in fact it can be divided into three distinct phases, according to a leading US anthropologist. Dr Helen Fisher, Research Professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, explains that each of these is governed by human biochemistry. So it’s hormones, not cherubic little cupids, that determine desire, cause lovesickness or make us ready to settle down.

A respected name in the field of human evolution studies, Fisher stresses that the stages don’t follow a prescribed formula. People fall in love in all sorts of nuanced ways: a large helping of lust, a pinch of attraction and absolutely no attachment, for instance; or maybe no lust, lots of attraction and plenty of attachment. The order isn’t set in stone, either. Attachment could come first (out of a sense of duty, say) and lust last. So, while it’s possible to rationalise love in biochemical terms, as Valentine’s Day looms again it’s nice to see that the human heart still has the final say.

Lust

The simplest of the lot and often the one we have least control over, lust is the body’s signal that its reproductive system is ready to go. Testosterone and oestrogen are the two hormones involved, with testosterone the main driver in men (it’s present in the female libido, too, but to a lesser degree) and oestrogen at work in women.

Attraction

We’re talking about the not-sleeping, not-eating phase of love. No wonder we’re lovelorn and confused: the body is awash with neurotransmitters called monoamines – among them dopamine, with its addictive feel good effects. Meanwhile the bloodstream is flushed with noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine), the chemical responsible for the “sweaty palms” syndrome that gets our hearts racing and makes our mouths dry. To borrow from Beyoncé, this ingredient of the love cocktail is the most likely to drive us “crazy in love”.

Attachment

The UK divorce statistics may suggest that modern society isn’t interested in long-term commitment. But think of the anguish that a failed relationship causes and it’s clear that attachment still matters. In terms of the chemical reactions at work, the hormone oxytocin helps us to form lasting relationships and builds feelings of empathy, trust and calmness. It’s released in the mother during childbirth and breastfeeding, and in both sexes by the act of lovemaking. To this can be added vasopressin, another hormone that is thought to encourage bonding.

 

twitter icon facebook icon youtube icon linkedin icon googleplus icon

Contact us - We would love to hear from you

New members

Send us a message

Benenden Personal Healthcare
Holgate Park Drive
York
YO26 4GG
0800 414 8001 * (Lines open 8am-5pm, Mon-Fri excluding Bank Holidays)

Existing members

Send us a message

Benenden Personal Healthcare
Holgate Park Drive
York
YO26 4GG
0800 414 8100 * (Lines open 8am - 8pm, Mon-Fri excluding Bank Holidays)

Please note that your call may be recorded for our mutual security and also for training and quality purposes.

Health cash plans

Benenden Health Cash Plan
BHSF Limited
2 Darnley Road,
Birmingham,
B16 8TE
0800 414 8071

Lines are open 8.45am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday.

Self-pay orthopaedic surgery

Send us a message

Benenden Hospital Trust
Goddard's Green Road
Benenden
Cranbrook
Kent
TN17 4AX
01580 242521 (Lines open 8am-4.30pm Mon-Fri)

Health assessments

Send us a message

Health assessments
Unit 1, Cameron Court
Cameron Street
Hillington Park
Glasgow
G52 4JH
0800 414 8486*

Travel insurance

Send us a message

Travel insurance
2nd Floor Maitland House
Warrior Square
Southend-on-Sea
Essex
SS1 2JY
0800 414 8301*

Lines open for Sales
9am-8pm Monday to Friday 
9am-5pm Saturday
10am-5pm Sunday

Lines open for Customer Services
9am-8pm Monday to Friday
9am-5pm Saturday
10am-5pm Sunday

Benenden for business

Send us a message

Benenden for Business
Holgate Park Drive
York
YO26 4GG

0800 414 8179
(Lines are open 9am-5pm Mon-Fri)

Home insurance

Send us a message

Benenden Home Insurance
1st Floor Maitland House
Warrior Square
Southend on Sea
Essex
SS1 2JY
0800 414 8556* (Lines open Monday to Friday 9am – 7pm, Saturday 9am – 5pm, excludes Bank Holidays)

Home Emergency
0800 294 2851* (Lines open 24 hours a day)

Legal Expenses
0330 100 9618* (Lines open 24 hours a day)

Charitable trust

Send us a message

Find out more

Charitable Trust
Holgate Park Drive
York
YO26 4GG
0800 414 8450* (Lines open 8am - 4pm Mon-Fri)