April 10, 2010

Dopamine vs. Serotonin: The Secret to a Happy Love Life

Ladies and gentleman, I think I've discovered the secret to a happy love life. I will have to warn you, this may sound a little crazy, but the more I think about it, the more this makes sense. If you are in a committed relationship, but that spark you had for each other seems to have died, this could be just the thing to help kickstart it again. If you are not in a relationship, take it in and store it in your memory bank for later. The brain is a powerful thing, and it is governed by chemicals. Understanding how these chemicals work can help you gain understanding and come up with solutions.

The chemicals in question are dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is your fight or flight response. It is a surge that drives you to get something accomplished or achieve some goal. Serotonin is a release of tension and causes peaceful satisfaction when you have achieved your goal. Dopamine and serotonin need to be balanced for your brain to be satisfied. If either one exists without a balance of the other, you are either depressed, anxious or bored.
If you have too much dopamine, then you are in a state of heightened arousal with no hope of relief. You are in the state of want. If, over a period of time, you still don't receive what you want, you will experience depression, anxiety, or panic. An example would be if you are pursuing a particular relationship, but the other party isn't interested. All of your energies are focused on achieving that goal, but that person isn't responsive. You have an overabundance of dopamine without serotonin. You need to get your serotonin boost, so that means you need to direct your energies towards an area in which you can succeed.
On the other hand, you have someone with too much serotonin. This person has a lot of satisfaction, but not achievement. They are getting everything they ever wanted or thought they wanted, but it leaves them feeling empty because they haven't had to work for it. They start wondering if maybe there is something more out there. If it's so great, why are they dissatisfied? An example would be a person who is in a relationship with someone who is too giving. You find yourself on a pedestal, and you can't do any wrong. With no effort whatsoever, you have this person's heart, even when you are being less than agreeable. If you haven't had to work for this devotion, it can feel empty. You start looking outside the relationship. You don't understand why you're unhappy, but you are. You need some dopamine. You need a challenge to bring that excitement back.
The more I think about dopamine and serotonin, the more I realize how powerful their influence is over how we feel about the things in our life. The same balance needs to exist in the workplace. A lot of people begin to feel bored with their jobs because there is no longer a challenge. You have climbed as far as you can go. It's time to get a new job or find a new challenge to bring that excitement. In a love relationship, this can be a little more difficult to navigate. It's not necessarily smart or healthy to keep jumping from partner to partner to partner in order to get dopamine or serotonin. God has created marriage to be a lifetime commitment between two people, so you don't want to jeopardize that covenant by just switching partners every time you aren't getting satisfied or you're feeling bored. And even if you aren't married, if you are always needing to switch from person to person, you might never receive the joy of being in a lifetime relationship. You will always be looking for the next fix.
The perfect balance is a relationship that is exciting and allows for both parties to be the pursued and the pursuer. This means a perfect amount of space in which both people can breathe and feel secure. So if you have been the one giving too much in a relationship, back off a little. Let your loved one miss you a little. Get involved in other things, not just to make a point or make them miss you, but because it's good for you. You need to have a full life by yourself. You don't want to depend on anyone for your fulfillment. Hopefully your partner will come back more in love with you than ever and wanting to make sure you are devoted to him/her. If you haven't been giving much, put yourself out there a little. Or talk to your partner about the concept and let them know in a gentle way that you are feeling smothered. Chances are, they will gladly give you space, and go find some other way to entertain themselves rather than hang on your every breath. In the meantime, assure them of your love and commitment. I will have to be honest, though, most of the work falls on the pursuer's back. The person being smothered may not understand that there is a problem, or they may just think that you are the problem. Dopamine and serotonin can help you rekindle the flame today.
So there you have it. Any thoughts?