We bet that at least once in your life you’ve probably thought that love is a complicated thing. Perhaps when going through a rough patch with your SO, or trying to win the heart of a match on Tinder. And neurologist, Dr. Fred Nour, author of the True Love Book, wants to reassure you that you’re not overthinking it, because love really is extremely complex. He believes we should all look into the science of love in order to inform the way we cultivate positive romantic relationships.
Dr. Nour challenges the unrealistic romance ideals we’ve been fed by Hollywood in an article for MindBodyGreen, writing, “The most damaging myth about love is the belief that love can touch us one time and lasts for a lifetime.” So hopeless romantics beware, Dr. Nour’s studies have shown it’s not a simple case of love at first sight, then a lasting bond is formed, but rather, there’s a series of complex brain mechanisms unleashed to help us find (and keep) true love.
Specifically, he outlines four distinct phases that we go through when developing our relationships. Keep scrolling to find out more about each stage.
Stage #1: Mate Selection
Dr. Nour explains when we are looking to find a match, the selection process is mostly made in the limbic brain (an unconscious part of our mind). “We use vision, hearing, smell, and probably some other unconscious senses that we might not be aware of to select a partner,” he says. It’s during this phase that you base your decisions on a preconceived (and perhaps irrational) notion of who your soulmate should be.
Stage #2: Falling in Love
Butterflies in the stomach, giddy excitement, and an awkward nervousness are common indicators many people search for as signs they are developing feelings for someone. But Dr. Nour says these reactions simply come down to the release of four specific chemicals in the brain: Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. All of these organic chemicals work together to give you that much desired “love experience”, but their effect isn’t permanent.
Stage #3: Falling Out of Love
We often read about poor habits and lack of quality time being to blame for stagnancy in a relationship—which isn’t completely untrue. But Dr. Nour explains the brain is also partly responsible for a lackluster emotional response. He believes this is because, “the brain chemicals responsible for falling in love return to their baseline level of functioning about two years after it begins. At that time, we lose the illusions, delusions, and euphoria of falling in love.”
Dr. Noir also encourages couples to try and stick this phase-out. “This is not the end of love as some people believe. It is the phase between romance chemicals decreasing, and the beginning of the true love phase that is based on another set of brain chemicals.”
Phase #4: True Love
Dr. Nour reveals there is a clear difference between love and romance—and yes, the two can exist together. But after the “fireworks” subside, there is room for new brain chemicals to blossom—nonapeptides, which cause a strong bond with only one partner. “These chemicals promote trust, calmness, and a harmonious marital relationship,” he says. “Nonapeptides cause you to forget the pain of falling out of love, or never even recall that it happened.”
Dr. Nour also suggests, if you’ve been in a long-term relationship there are things you can do to enhance that feeling: Maintaining intimacy, trying new things, cooperation, and trust can all help bring an authentic spark to your partnership.