EFT for Love: The Conspiracy of Psychology and Biology
By Dawson Church, PhD, EFT TRN-3
This article is excerpted from the book EFT for Love Relationships, by Dawson Church, PhD, pp. 297—306.
How Biology Conspires to Bring You Together
At the start of a relationship, we feel the warm romantic glow of falling in love. We perceive all the wonderful characteristics of the other person. We spend lots of time together. We want to have sex frequently. We talk to friends enthusiastically about our new beloved. While we might believe that these behaviors are driven by the characteristics of the other person or by love itself, they are in fact driven purely by the biology of our bodies. Oxytocin and dopamine are two hormones that play a large part in such behavior.
Oxytocin is secreted by your body’s hypothalamus gland. It’s called the “bonding hormone” or the “cuddle hormone.” Its release is triggered by physical proximity to a person with whom you feel a connection.
On the upswing of the emotional roller coaster, when you feel attracted to another person, and especially when you touch them, you begin to produce copious amounts of oxytocin. Love and sex stimulate the secretion of still more oxytocin, ensuring further attraction and bonding. Both men and women produce oxytocin in response to touch, and in men, oxytocin is the primary hormone that produces erections.
Unfortunately, the effect does not last. After you’ve been with the same partner for a while, proximity to that person produces less oxytocin. This phenomenon is more pronounced for men than for women. A man’s penis is rarely as hard during lovemaking after a few months with a partner due to this drop in oxytocin.
Compounding the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster is a second hormone, dopamine. Dopamine is our motivational “gotta get some” hormone. Close physical contact triggers the secretion of dopamine, which increases as we become more sexually aroused, and during orgasm it peaks. One researcher compared the effect of the “dopamine storm” produced during orgasm to a dose of heroin. After orgasm, both dopamine and oxytocin levels decline. In men, these hormonal shifts drive behaviors like turning away from their partners after orgasm, a deflating penis, and falling asleep.
Sex as Heroin
The comparison of these hormones and neurotransmitters to drugs like heroin and cocaine is not accidental. They produce sensations similar to a narcotic high. Love addiction can be as powerful as sticking a needle filled with opioid drugs into your arm. Just as the drug addict feels powerless in the face of his or her addiction, love addicts lose their self-control when the next hormonal hurricane is triggered by the presence of a new partner.
After orgasm, the levels of dopamine in your body fall rapidly. This is similar to the withdrawal pangs a heroin addict feels when deprived of a fix. Researchers have associated a dopamine drop with the emotions anger and irritability. While you might have found your lover enchanting during the seduction phase of the relationship, you might now become aware of his or her shortcomings.
The solution, biologically speaking, is to drive up oxytocin again by more sex. That’s why you find new couples having sex so often. They may also have lots of emotional ups and downs, as hormonal levels fluctuate rapidly.
As we become more habituated to our partner, they are less able to stimulate the production of oxytocin in our brains. They become a less reliable source of a fix, whereas new potential partners are able to produce the desired oxytocin and dopamine rush. Rather than another relationship, we might turn to a recreational drug that produces similar hormonal stimulation.
If you read the profiles in online dating services, many men and women tell us how important “chemistry” is to them. Their use of the word “chemistry” is unintentionally more accurate than they realize. They’re literally telling us they’re seeking a drug-induced high. What they don’t realize is that the bonding chemistry of the upswing of the emotional roller coaster will be followed by the alienating chemistry of the downswing. The hormonal tide washes out as surely as it washed in. If you’re counting on chemistry to sustain a long-term relationship, you’re doomed to disappointment.
Novelty Produces Arousal of Brain and Body
American president Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words. When visiting a farm with his wife, Grace, she observed a rooster who had an indefatigable appetite for coupling with his hens. She made sure the farmer shared the news with her husband. Coolidge looked thoughtful for a moment, then asked the man, “Does the rooster do that with the same hen?” The farmer replied, “No, sir.” Said the president, “Please tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”
These biological patterns are common to most mammals. Male rats become sexually satiated with their mates, and ignore them after vigorous copulation. If a new female is introduced into the cage, however, the males are reinvigorated. They couple with the newcomer, after which they ignore her. Male rats can repeat this cycle until they are completely physically exhausted.
We see similar patterns of behavior reported in popular media. Literature and movies celebrate the exploits of great seducers like Casanova, Marilyn Monroe, or James Bond. Similarly, gossip columns breathlessly report the serial affairs of celebrities. These liaisons are mistakenly reported as relationships, or as a search for true love, when they are actually a chronicle of drug addiction. Though the drug is in the form of a hormone produced by the addict’s own brain, these behaviors are addictions just as surely as if the seducer was sticking a needle in his or her arm. For the addict, the new lover is simply the source of the craved drug.
Mating with many different partners is a behavior with clear evolutionary advantages. It’s designed by Mother Nature to produce genetic diversity. By combining as many sets of genes as possible, a large number of genetic variations is produced. Some of these combinations will be more successful than others, and more successful than the originating gene pairs.
These biological urges don’t promote stable relationships, however. You’re bonding with your partner and then breaking up with him or her, as part of this genetic dance. After the honeymoon, Mother Nature has completed her work of bringing you together to swap genes, and she then abandons you. She has a great investment in getting you hitched so that you will exchange genes and improve the species, but she then pulls you apart, so you can couple with someone else. If you want a long-term relationship, you’re going to have to swim against the tide, biologically speaking.
If you don’t understand these biological cycles, you might well come to the mistaken conclusion that your lover is producing all these emotional swings. You feel the dopamine and oxytocin rush that accompanies a new relationship, and hallucinate that the other person is the source of your good feelings. Later, when hormone levels drop, you believe it’s the fault of your lover, and invest your efforts in getting your lover to change. This endeavor is actually driven by the unconscious hope that your partner will produce another hormonal high for you.
Although your partner may try to please you for a while, such a strategy rarely works for long. You’re likely to leave that person for the promise offered by a new partner, and repeat the cycle again. To subvert the words of Winston Churchill: “Those who don’t understand hormones are doomed to repeat them.”
How Psychology Conspires to Pull You Apart
Psychology and biology come together at the start of a relationship. Most of us had unmet childhood needs. As adults, we seek to get those needs met, and look to other people to meet them. We project all our unfulfilled longings onto an imagined ideal lover or mate. We’re convinced that when we find that soul mate, all our problems will be solved. We go through life seeking that ideal other.
At the start of the relationship, our partner seems wonderful, because we’ve dumped all our projections onto that person. Juiced by our hormones and unmet needs, we overlook our new partner’s flaws and magnify his or her virtues on the upside of the emotional roller coaster.
The other person, of course, cannot truly fill the holes in our psyche, and we realize this after a while. We become disappointed as our lover fails to meet our expectations. Our love may turn to bitterness and anger on the downside of the roller coaster, and we may then start to project our wounds onto the other person at this time. Instead of being the hero, he or she is now the villain.
The other person might be a blank screen, onto which we first projected our dreams, and now project our disappointments. How we perceive our partner has little to do with how that person actually is, and everything to do with what we project onto him or her. If we don’t understand this pattern, we might believe that our elation and disappointment is due to our lover’s behavior.
This psychological pattern transposes perfectly onto our biological cycles. When we’re projecting our unmet longings onto the other person at the start of a relationship, our oxytocin and dopamine levels are soaring. When we’re projecting our disappointments onto that same person at the end of the relationship, our oxytocin levels and dopamine are crashing. Biology reinforces psychology.
Tapping for Falling in Love
We can use EFT to tap on both the upswing and the downswing of the emotional roller coaster. When you feel yourself “falling in love,” you can tap to release the intensity of your emotions. When you feel calm, you’re able to make wiser decisions.
A friend of mine, Ray, was crazy about a woman in our social circle, who I’ll call Lois. He saw her often during social gatherings and found himself irresistibly drawn to her. At the time, however, she was in a relationship with another man, Arnold, so Ray could only dream of being with her. I saw Ray often, as he was learning EFT.
A year later, Lois and Arnold broke up, and Ray began to spend time with Lois. He immediately fell in love, though Lois was not very interested in a relationship with him. Ray wondered what mysterious compulsion drew him to Lois, and suspected that much of the energy he had around her was due to his own projections, and not to Lois herself.
He decided to tap on every thought, feeling, and belief that came up when he tuned in to Lois. His introspection produced tapping statements such as:
Even though I’m worried Lois won’t love me… Even though Lois doesn’t reciprocate my feelings… Even though I might not be good enough for Lois… Even though I might be disappointed once again… Even though I crave Lois… Even though I don’t really know Lois that well… Even though I get this tingling feeling all over my body when I think of Lois…
Ray spent several hours doing EFT on all these thoughts and feelings till he felt calm. He’d discharged all the energy he had around Lois.
Over the next few weeks, spending time with Lois after he’d tapped down his projections, he noticed that Lois spoke of Arnold in a demeaning way and seemed confused about her direction in life. Ray listened closely to her stories and realized she had a pattern of hopping from relationship to relationship, rarely staying with a man more than 6 months before moving on. Though she was usually sweet and kind, she had a critical streak that came out in her relationships with men. Lois had left her previous job as a corporate communications consultant in order to become a life coach. The career change wasn’t working out well and she was feeling financial pressure.
After all the tapping he’d done, Ray began to realize, to his astonishment, that he didn’t actually like Lois as a person very much. Before tapping, he romanticized her through the mists of infatuation. Once he’d dispelled the hormonal fog with EFT, he could make a clear-headed decision about the merits of getting involved with her. His hormones and the projection of his unmet needs were no longer driving him. He decided not to pursue a relationship with her. Tapping saved him from becoming another of Lois’s quickly discarded lovers, and all the heartbreak that would have entailed.
This article is excerpted from the book EFT for Love Relationships,
by Dawson Church, PhD,