7 Tips for Embracing Love While Keeping Oxytocin in Check

Can you tell if you are under the illusion of love?

Posted Feb 16, 2017

Yale Digital Commons, Robert Indiana
Source: Yale Digital Commons, Robert Indiana

In our love-addicted society, too many people have come to believe in the love myth—without love, without a relationship, you are not whole. This is reinforced by the Valentine's Day frenzy, the one day when love should be in the air. But here is an alternative: By developing an attitude of gratitude, we can sprinkle love and positive feelings through the year. And if love does come along, we can be a bit discerning.

While poets and authors have tried to describe love, research published in “Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience” determined that the naturally-occurring hormone oxytocin and love are intimately related. Often called the love drug, oxytocin plays a role in bonding, maternal instinct, enduring friendshipmarriage, and orgasms. (Algoe, 2013).

Although oxytocin is stimulated through love-making, herein lies a bit of deception. In earlier interviews, Loretta Graziano Breuning Ph.D., whose newest book is The Science of Positivity, pointed out to me: “The oxytocin released through orgasm creates a lot of trust, but only for a short period of time. In nature most animals are bachelors, so in the act of love-making they generate an opportunity for trust.”

In the world of humans, this is what she says happens with women. After making love a woman might mistake the oxytocin release for feelings that tell her, “This is 'the One', my perfect partner.” As Dr. Breuning notes, “Despite those initial feelings, it does not necessarily mean that the person is trustworthy. The perception you have at the moment is an illusion you create about the person that may or may not fit what happens next.”

How can we be a bit more discerning and keep the oxytocin illusion in check?

  1. Get to know your partner on more than just a casual basis. Spend time with one another.
  2. Share a cup of warm coffee. Yale researcher Professor John A. Bargh with Lawrence Williams of the University of Colorado determined that, “Our judgment of a person’s character can be influenced by something as simple as the warmth of the drink we hold in our hand.” With Hot Coffee, We See a Warm Heart
  3. Laugh together. Women want a man who is funny and men want a woman who will make them laugh or at least smile. In a study from the University of Kansas, associate professor Jeffrey Hall found that the likelihood of successful dates could be predicted through laughter, and “an even better indicator of romantic connection is if the two are spotted together laughing.” And, a new review of the research literature indicates that laughter, and even a smile, is contagious. (Wood, 2016).
  4. Learn to listen. When your partner talks to you, listen. Look into his or her eyes. Instead of getting ready for your own answer, hear what the other person is saying to you.
  5. Choose forgiveness. If a new or current love upsets you, instead of biting words or the silent treatment, change the way you express hurt or disappointment. Perhaps you might start with honesty, for example, “I think you are terrific and I am so happy to be with you, however, it hurts me when you say you are going to call and then don’t.”
  6. Embrace intimacy. People can sometimes be afraid of intimacy because it reveals vulnerability. However, it is often the case that vulnerability opens lines of communication that lead to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for one another.
  7. Express gratitude. When tempted to utter a critical word, find a way to express gratitude and look for a positive aspect of the person you are with and say so. According to a study published by the Greater Good Science Center, gratitude is the “glue” that blinds. Although it was a small study of 77 married heterosexual and monogamous couples, the findings were discussed in All You Need is Love, Gratitude, and Oxytocin.

Gratitude studies from the lab of psychologist Robert Emmons, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, found that if you practice acts of kindness—expressing gratitude that you do not necessarily feel—eventually you will find yourself becoming a more grateful person. Perhaps by smiling more often at your spouse or partner, even when you are angry, by forgiving even if you feel that you are right, by taking the high road you might begin to develop a loving-kindness that creates life-long love.

Copyright 2017 Rita Watson


Sara B. Algoe, Evidence for a Role of the Oxytocin System, Indexed by Genetic Variation in CD38, in the Social Bonding Effects of Expressed Gratitude. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013Chopik, W.J., Wardecker, B.M., Edelstein, R.S. (2014)

Wood, A., Rychlowska, M.,Korb, S., Niedenthal, P., (2016) Fashioning the Face: Sensorimotor Simulation Contributes to Facial Expression Recognition, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, On line Feb.11, 2016,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.12.010