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Happy Relationships – Do You Want One?

The Science of Love and Health

Having seen too many divorces and breakups, I am always interested in writers who help couples make it together despite the many twists and turns of being in a relationship. John Gerson helps couples find love again. John’s short article documents how science is telling us something we’ve always suspected. That, love helps us heal.

For more of Dr. Gerson’s work see:


A fascinating experiment was reported in a March 2012 New York Times article, The Brain on Love, by Diane Ackerman which provides scientific evidence for the healing and protective power of love.

In 2006, James Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia measured the level of anxiety and actual pain experienced by women to whom an electric shock was delivered through their ankles.

The experiment involved two trials, the first in which the women were alone when they were shocked, and the second in which the women were holding the hand of a loving partner.

And, what were the results?

The same level of electricity produced lower levels of neurological activity throughout the brains of the women holding their partner’s hand than when they were alone in the experiment. While holding their partner’s hands, the women experienced less anxiety before being shocked and less pain while they were shocked.

These results have a great deal to do with the fact that when we are in happy committed relationships we experience emotional and physical safety; this is because our partners respond to us in ways that help us “feel felt.” Our partners, like good parents, provide emotional and physical safety. When we feel safe inside, we become more courageous and more interested in exploring the world. This is true for children and for adults.

Of course, not all of us have had the benefit of being raised by parents who were themselves that secure, and some of us suffered parenting which was more or less or even seriously misattuned to our needs when we were small children. The result for those of us in this category is that we struggle with self doubts, or perhaps behave as if we really don’t need other people, or fall somewhere in between.

The good news, however, is that through careful selection of partners we can change our experience of ourselves from less secure to more secure. It takes maturity and learning what works.

  1. A partner need not meet all our needs, but rather be open enough to see the relationship through its ups and downs.
  2. Often people make the mistake of finding partners who mirror the problems of childhood. For instance, a person can marry a with holding spouse despite (or because of) the fact that he or she was raised by a cold mother. Its best to avoid traps like this.
  3. Psychotherapy is a gift that can provide clues about good and bad choices. One's motivations become more evident - which makes changing one's patterns more likely.
  4. Love is a two way street. We need to feel accepted - and - we need to accept. This is the great challenge of long term love, with all the pressures and distractions of modern life.
  5. Relationships are worth it. For many of us, it is tougher than any career or course we've ever taken. There are lessons to be learned, everyday.

The achievement a secure love relationship will change our attitude about the outside world in a similar way. Through loving, supportive relationships, we become more trusting that the world will welcome us. If we “feel felt,” we are not alone , and feel protected.

Life can be hazardous, and shock us, but it all goes down easier if we have good friends and loving relationships. We know that if we have relationships which have these qualities, our bodies, minds, and spirits are supported; recovery from illness and injury is easier, and we tend to live longer.


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