Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Are You Addicted To Your Partner?

Is there a physical basis to our bond?

Your lights are on, but you're not home

Your will is not your own

You're heart sweats, your teeth grind

Another kiss and you'll be mine

Whoa, you like to think that you're immune to the stuff, oh yeah

It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough

You know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love

–Robert Palmer

Why is breaking up so hard to do? Marie Ellis reports that Dr. Rene Hurlemann, executive senior physician from Bonn (Germany) University Medical Center and his research team, in collaboration with researchers from Ruhr University of Bochum (Germany) and the University of Chengdu (China), have found that the hormone oxytocin that is secreted by the brain is to blame.

Dr. Hurlemann reports that their research on male subjects in committed relationships suggests that oxytocin is "similar to a  drug" for couples in a permanent relationship. As the couples remain in the relationship they receive a steady suppy of oxytocin which the researchers found triggered the reward system in the brain causing them to perceive their partner as attractive. Dr. Hurlemann noted that "this could also explain why people fall into depression or deep mourning after a separation from their partner: due to the lack of oxytocin secretion, the reward system is understimulated, and is more or less in a withdrawal state."

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Dr. Hurlemann said that although this flies in the face of the traditional evolutionary biology view that men are designed to be spreading their seed unfaithfully to as many partners as they can, "when oxytocin strengthens the partner bond, it increases the stability of the persons providing nutrition and thus the chances of survival for the progeny." It appears that monogamy is not some outdated patriarchal construct but in fact has a neuroscientific basis and confers a biological advantage in the survival of offspring. Thus the "rambling man" who can only stay so long until he must pursue his greater calling of "following the sun," drinking coffee from some "crackling, gurgling cauldron in some train yard" or some other excuse for abandoning his mate and children once he no longer feels personally fulfilled, is a recent construct  of music, movies and televsion that does not make good biological sense.

If you are in a mirage relationship that ends abruptly due to betrayal, this research indicates that you will go through that biochemical pull as your body misses the oxytocin high. This withdrawal effect can explain why many cuckolded partners take their untrue mate back and head for couples counselling in an attempt to salvage the marriage or cohabitation. Due to neuroscience, breaking up truly is hard to do.  

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.


Subscribe to Repairing Relationships

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.