Wired For Love: Are You An Anchor, Island, Or a Wave?

If you’ve ever fallen in love, then you know it feels pretty wacko in the beginning. You can’t sleep, you barely eat, and your beloved is all you think about. Your body and brain are flooded with a cocktail of chemicals, including dopamine, noradrenaline, testosterone, oxytocin, and vasopressin.

As it happens, other traits of the first blush — obsessiveness, compulsivity, anxiety, and panic — are shared by many mental disorders. There’s a reason we call it “lovesick.”

Yet humans keep falling in love anyway. How peculiar. And how romantic.

While falling in love is enticing enough to make us take leave of our senses, staying in love is how we enjoy the real rewards: mutual trust, regular affection, consistent support. For most of us, what really counts is what happens after the infatuation phase, when we demonstrate our ability to be there for one another, no matter what. And even if that capacity doesn’t come naturally, we can learn and nurture it.

I am a couples’ therapist by training, and I have developed and use a psychobiological approach in my clinical practice. For 25 years, I’ve observed how much something called “attachment style” influences our ability to participate in a loving relationship. This is because our early experiences with attachment create an instructional blueprint that remains stored in our bodies; that blueprint determines our basic relational wiring and sense of safety.

In a nutshell, these incidents program some of us to be fundamentally secure in our primary relationships, while others of us become insecure. And insecurity can make us distant, or ambivalent about relating.

But this can be changed. Partners can make love and avoid war when the security-seeking parts of the brain are put at ease. I explore this concept at length in my book Wired for Love. This is a summary of a few of the ideas found there.

Three Styles of Relating

The success of long-term relationships depends in part on partners acting as each other’s “whisperers,” in the animal sense. This means respecting each other’s vulnerabilities and knowing, without necessarily being told, what the other person needs when he or she is upset. Each partner communicates his or her needs and desires without resorting to threats, guilt, force, or manipulation.

This isn’t to say we should remain at the mercy of each other’s runaway moods and feelings. Rather, as competent “managers” of our partners, we can become expert at…

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