Why do we love? Is it part of human evolution? What in our biology makes us strive for love and intimacy? And how do we make it last? This week we welcome Dr. Helen Fisher, TED talk all-start and author of Anatomy of Love - A Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray. In this episode we dive head first into how long-term partnerships fit into what makes us human - along with some thoughts about breaking up, serial monogamy, and what makes love last. Helen Fisher is the Chief Scientific Advisor to Match.com as well as a Senior Research Fellow at the Kinsey Institute. You’ll appreciate how her knowledge of the science of love can give us the roadmap to long-lasting happiness in relationship.
We are built to fall in love. Is the quest for long-term thriving monogamy futile? History, biology, and evolution show us that we are, in fact, built to create pair bonds. We are built to fall in love. Our brains are wired to feel intense feelings of romantic love and attachment. While there is biology to support attachment structures, there is also biology to support the drive to wander, and to cheat. To reconcile these concepts it is important to know that pair bonding is different than monogamy. Every individual, couple, and culture needs to figure out how to navigate what attachment in the context of romantic love means.
Serial monogamy? In hunting and gathering societies serial monogamy was not necessarily the golden standard or expectation for coupling. However, women and men tended to have 2-3 spouses during the course of their lives. We have most likely evolved to have a series of partnerships throughout our lives. While culture plays a major role in how this is expressed, we see it happening more and more in people in their 20s and 30s.
Before tying the knot. Research shows that over 50% of single Americans have had a one night stand or friends with benefits. This is not reckless, in fact, it very well might be helping establish healthier marriages. There is a current trend in the United States in which the pre-commitment stage of relationships is being extended. 67% of people who live with their significant other say they have not married yet because they are worried about divorce. That said, 81% of people who married later say they would marry the same person again if they had a second chance. The longer you are together pre-marriage, the more likely you are to try to stick together, and this results in a sharp decrease in divorce rates. This is true because the time spent together gives you the chance to really know who you are marrying, and give the relationship time to work itself out, or not.
4 year itch- Data shows that most people will divorce around 3-4 years of marriage. This is likely no coincidence. It takes 3-4 years to raise a child through infancy, and it seems evolutionarily beneficial to have evolved a predisposition for serial pair bonding linked with having one child at a time, and then to seek another partner as an adaptive strategy evolutionarily to have kids with different partners, creating genetic variety.
Rebuilding local community- We may be putting too much pressure and improbably expectations on our partnerships due to the fact that we have lost local community. It used to be that marriages were surrounded by family and community and could depend on help from others to help raise children. The loss of local community is a very serious issue facing contemporary marriages, and it is very important that we focus on rebuilding these social networks. Find, create, nurture, and invest in your friendship circles as an extension of and protection for, your primary relationship.
Happiness in the brain: Research results from the study of people in long term self-reported happy marriages shows an increase in activity in 3 brain regions. These three areas serve to facilitate the function of 1) empathy, 2) controlling our emotions, and 3) increasing our ability to overlook what we do not like about our partner and focus on what we do like (aka positive illusion). In order to keep all three of these basic brain systems alive it is important to do the following “magic combo”.
The Magic Combo:
Keep the romance alive with NOVELTY: Novelty drives up dopamine in thebrain and can foster intense feelings of romantic love.
Keep the feelings of deep attachment by STAYING IN TOUCH: Hold hands, sit together on the couch, walk arm in arm, sleep in each other’s arms… Anytime that you are in pleasant touch with someone you are driving up oxytocin levels which fosters the feeling of deep attachment.
Keep the sex drive alive by… having SEX: Sex is good for the body, the mind, and for the relationship. Pleasant and sensual stimulation and orgasm drives up dopamine and oxytocin levels in the brain therefore impacting both the sense of romantic love connection and deep attachment so critical for maintaining long-term partnerships.
Positive illusions: Our brains are very well built for deception. Use this to your advantage! Train your brain by using mindfulness and gratitude practices in order to have more control over what you focus on, and what you overlook. You can really build more capacity for attraction and love for your partner by increasing your ability and capability to shift how you see them. Instead of ruminating on the way your partner doesn’t do their morning dishes, choose to appreciate the cup of coffee they made you, etc…
Understand each other on a biological level. We are naturally drawn to some people rather than others, and much of this attraction is dependent on hormones and chemicals. The more you get to know different aspects of personality, and study your partner, the more you can give and get what each of you needs. Are they high testosterone? High estrogen? Low serotonin? High serotonin? Knowing each other on a biological level helps to turn differences into things to be celebrated, versus sources of consternation and frustration.
NOTE: Check out Helen Fisher’s quiz to figure this out below in the resource section.
Is technology changing the way we love? Dr. Helen Fisher posits that while technology is drastically changing the way we court, it cannot and is not changing the basic brain mechanics of how humans form attachments. She sees technology as helping, or hindering, relationship forming, and this is especially true for older citizens.
Deep relating: Continue to find ways together, and apart to nourish intimacy. This is likely going to require a constant balancing act of individual and partnership needs. Make time for deep relating, for it is in this time that you get to know and understand your partner in the ways they want to be understood, and then you can truly give them what they need. At the same time it is key that you continue to support each other’s individual and independent growth so as not to get over dependent or create claustrophobia within the coupledom. In a good relationship everyone feels like they’ve got a good deal and that it is balanced. Strive to create this sense of fulfilment for each other!
Take Helen Fisher’s quizzes here
Check out Helen Fisher’s speeches and articles on her website
Watch Dr. Helen Fisher’s TED talk The Brain In Love
www.neilsattin.com/helen Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with Helen Fisher
Our Relationship Alive Community on Facebook
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How do you know if someone is right for you? Whether you're dating and trying to figure it out, or finding yourself second-guessing your choice of partner - this episode is for you! My goal is for you to have some new ways of answering this question for yourself, to get you to a deeper level of understanding.
In some respects, the answer to this question is going to be unique to every situation. What follows in this episode are some general principles that will help you get more clarity and figure out your next steps when you're asking yourself "How do I know if this person is right for me?" I also talk about some practical ways to bring up the conversation with your partner (if you're in a relationship) in a way that will lead to the best possible outcome.
What role does your gender play in how you react to stress? And how does it determine the best ways to recover from stress? And what does it mean in terms of your relationship? The more that you understand your biology, the better you’ll be able to help yourself (and your partner) in the stressful times, and in the not-so-stressful times. In this week’s episode, we’re talking with John Gray, author of the international bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. His latest book, Beyond Mars and Venus, is an update to his work, and offers some insights into how to apply it to your life and relationship. He likes to say that he not only has great advice - he follows it - and John has been married for over 30 years. Our conversation covers a LOT of territory - so enjoy the ride!
Stress response: Stress is universal and ubiquitous. It permeates our lives, our bodies, and our relationships. Luckily, while it is true that we have little control over the presence of stress in our environments, research shows that we can have control over our internal stress responses.
Cortisol: Internal stress can be measured by the presence of cortisol in our bodies. As cortisol increases it creates a cascade of internal changes, including inhibiting our ability to feel happiness, connection, and motivation. This can be explained partially because as cortisol levels rise, blood stops flowing to the prefrontal cortex so critical in being able to attune to another and hear their point of view. Furthermore, cortisol sends 8 times more blood flow to the hippocampus- activating our tendency to focus on what is not working. Increasing cortisol levels thus impacts our ability to see the good, be grateful, or even see things as they are. We begin to look for faults, place blame, and criticize our way out of connection. It is at this moment that we must engage in activities that bring back hormonal balance, including an increase in oxytocin, so that we can re-engage with our partners from a more loving place.
Get curious about how your biology becomes your behavior, and vice versa: In order to gain control of shifting our internal reactions and responses it is key that we learn about how hormones affect our biology and thus, our behavior. We all have an authentic unique self. And that unique self is a blend of our masculine and feminine qualities. While we each have our idiosyncratic ways of expressing these qualities, it can be helpful to look at the science and biology of general hormonal patterns along the gender continuum.
Tending to our biological needs, alone and together: When we are under stress our flight or fight system is kicked in, and often our fear response inhibits our ability to assess what we really need in any given moment. We all have certain biological needs that we are not aware of. Take time (when you are in a calm and regulated state) to learn more about how stress impacts your biology so that you can better meet your (and your partner’s) needs. With increased awareness and understanding you will be more equipped to not only remember what it is you really need to do to find equilibrium again, but you will be able to advocate for this in your relationships. Teach each other what you learn so that you can get, and give, the specific kinds of love that will stimulate the hormonal shifts so critical in regaining balance and well-being.
Be specific in how you support each other! While gender identity is fluid, research shows that men and women need different hormones in order to feel open and ready to give and receive love. For men there must be adequate levels of testosterone, and for women they need adequate levels of estrogen and progesterone. Due to cultural and societal changes, modern society does not provide enough opportunities for appropriate hormonal balance. Without overgeneralizing too much, men are being asked more and more to connect with their feminine sides, almost to their detriment, and women are, for the most part engaging in testosterone inducing work environments. While so many of the recent cultural changes are beneficial to creating a more equal society, it is causing hormonal imbalances that are impacting our relationships without our awareness.
Role Reversal: Now that people are more and more free to explore both ends of the gender spectrum (and all the space in between), there is a tendency to get stuck too far from one’s biological homebase. In fact, going to the extreme of the other gender’s hormonal expression can become addictive. This is true because when a woman expresses her masculinity she is often expressing behaviors that have long been repressed, and doing so can release a huge amount of energy. And vice versa for men.
Danger! Danger! Estrogen levels are rising in men from 1) overworking, 2) the freedom to express their feminine side more and more and 3) toxicity in the environment. When men’s estrogen levels rise, inhibiting their testosterone levels, they (ironically it would seem) become less able to be kind, loving and compassionate. The more he expresses his feeling and irritation/complains the more estrogen he produces, and this actually makes him feel worse. In an effort to regain the polarity needed to maintain attraction, his partner (in both homosexual and heterosexual couples) will go further to their male side. The longer these patterns go unnoticed the more ingrained the behaviors and biology become. This can be disastrous for relationships as it sabotages natural instincts and dismisses basic needs. Women are experiencing higher and higher levels of testosterone, and lower than needed levels of estrogen. Toxins from pesticides and ingested hormones act as estrogen disruptors and block the natural production of feminine hormones, leaving women 1) with a false sense of connection, 2) with less and less desire to display their feminine side, 3) overwhelmed and unable to stop and do something for themselves, and 4) less interested in relationships and intimacy.
Find balance: In general, what women need in order to counteract the testosterone inducing cultural forces acting upon them is to engage in estrogen and progesterone producing activities. Most importantly they need to create a personal life that supports their feminine side- time put aside for engaging in pleasurable and social activities. The female hormones of estrogen and progesterone are produced whenever people are doing something enjoyable, not rushed, and when they are feeling included and supported by others. Women, in general, need and want to feel connected, heard, and held. In fact, research shows that estrogen levels rise as a result of therapy, and this may explain partially why more women engage in therapy than men do. Men, on the other hand, need their testosterone levels to be 10-30 times higher than a woman’s in order to feel stress free and balanced. To achieve this men require time to detach from relationships, allowing them the time necessary to rebuild testosterone. Behaviors that stimulate testosterone can be defined as ‘cave time’- critical space and time to enjoy doing something non-stressful, but not involved with social bonding.
Women need to engage in behaviors that stimulate estrogen and progesterone. For women who find themselves in stressful work environments it can be difficult to shift away from testosterone’s momentum. To help increase estrogen it is critical to prioritize engaging in pleasurable activities. Women spend a lot of energy in ‘YOU-time’- time in which they are sacrificing their needs and giving a lot. To balance this, try to set aside ‘ME-time’ which may include yoga, baths, creativity, walks- whatever is natural, nurturing, easy, and comfortable. Furthermore, find ‘WE-time’ through bonding activities with friends and loved ones. WE-time produces oxytocin (which helps replenish estrogen levels) when it involves 1) feeling safe and able to depend on another, 2) receiving non-sexual touch, and 3) having the opportunity to share and feel heard.
Give hugs and/or give space. Listen to your partner’s biological needs, without taking it personally. Let your man have his cavetime. Let your lady vent. Remember- when we are stressed out, actions speak louder than words. Do not try to use logic. Do not try to argue, instead try to allow, and accept.
The Venus Talk: The Venus Talk is an exercise that gives women (or people wanting to support their feminine side) exactly what they need, without taxing their partner. It respects women’s need to express and vent their feelings and gives them a chance to feel bonded. The way a venus talk works is this: women have 10 minutes to talk. She can express anything at all, as long as it is not a direct complaint about her partner. During these ten minutes her partner just listens. As listener you don’t have to say anything, do anything other than receive and witness, and especially don’t try to fix anything. When women are given this opportunity and invitation to let it out, they tend to come back to regulation mid-way through sharing, and are able to see from new perspectives. Without having reliable times such as this for sharing, women will try to suppress their emotions, and inevitably these will get displaced and be expressed in complaints, criticisms, and resentments. Creating a sacred time such as this is incredibly supportive and responsive to not only her biological needs, but also becomes protective to the partnership in general. Silently listening to a woman allows men to build their testosterone, and increases a sense of capability and effectiveness needed for confidence and attraction.
“Gender intelligence is magnificent! Once people can grasp it and study it and apply it we can create the lasting love that we all want and that is missing today in the world. This new knowledge of relationship skills in a complex world comes at a time when we actually have the potential to create a new kind of relationship of love, attraction, and romance. It is possible!” (John Gray)
Do not let your happiness depend on your partner changing. Follow these four steps (repeatedly) in order to help break patterns of dependency and resentment:
First step: Stop! Stop trying to change your partner! Discover all the ways you consciously or unconsciously attempt to change your partner by being upset with them, by withholding love, by resenting them, or by making unreasonable demands of them. Bring your curiosity and awareness to the ways you subtly and overtly try to mold or influence your partner to meet your expectations and ideals.
Second step: Be happy! Really learn how to increase and influence your own well-being. When stress goes down we are naturally quite happy- work to find the right chemistry of hormones in your body to come back into regulation. Take responsibility for your body and engage in activities and behaviors that increase needed hormones.
Third step: Give. Give more, not less, to your partner. And be specific with your giving. Learn what kind of support your partner need the most, and help meet those needs.
Fourth step: Ask. Advocate for what you yourself need from your partner and advocate for this. Don’t test your partner’s love and devotion by believing that “if they really knew me they would know exactly what to say/do right now”. Give them the manual, the tips, the clues, the tools, the know-how to give you exactly what you want.
Moon cycles: Be open and ready for change! A woman’s hormones are changing every day of the month, and thus, what she needs is going to be constantly shifting. Spend some time together reviewing the menstrual cycle and learning about what is most needed in each phase. Talk to each other about explicit ways you can respect her changing needs, and what the expectations are. It can be incredibly helpful to have a calendar (or a tracking app) so that you both aren’t left guessing about what is occurring.
Polarity, practice, and play: While learning the science of hormones can be daunting, and feel like a lot of work, it ultimately can provide insight needed for our relationships to blossom, and our passions to ignite. Attraction is so dependent on polarity, and luckily, with new research we now have the knowledge needed to effectively influence how we express our male and female qualities. Empower yourselves to be your own alchemists and be willing to practice and play with trying different behaviors! This will change your body, and your expand your potential for having a sustained, fulfilling, and passionate relationship!
NOTE: Learn about how to counteract modern toxicity: Check out John Gray’s newest book for a comprehensive overview and in-depth discussion about how our bodies are being affected by toxicity in our environment. It is critical to our balance and well-being that we understand the dangers we are being exposed, and take steps to cleanse our bodies and detoxify. Fasting and nutritional supplements can both be supportive in helping to kick out the extra estrogen your body has accumulated. Do your research! Read! Ask the experts!
Read John Gray’s newest book: Beyond Mars and Venus: Relationship Skills for Today’s Complex World
Check out John Gray’s website for more resources, advice, and products!
www.neilsattin.com/marsvenus Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with John Gray
Our Relationship Alive Community on Facebook
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What is the role of "alone time" when you're in a relationship? How do you take space in a way that helps your relationship grow, and flourish? And what kinds of things should you do with your alone time - if you want it to support your ability to connect as well as your ability to shine brightly in your own right?
While much of the Relationship Alive podcast is focused on the skills of relating and loving - the things that you do together with your partner - today's episode is focused on a particular way of taking time apart. It's the Art of Taking Space - because, as with everything, there are ways of taking space that can not only enhance your life, but also enhance your connection. And there are ways where...not so much!
Enjoy this week's journey with me on Relationship Alive!