The Very Real Ways Being In Love Changes Your Brain

We all know how love can make us feel crazy, but what’s actually going on in our brains when we’ve fallen head over heels? Being in love involves not only your heart but your head too. From obsessing over your crush to building trust, here’s how being in love affects your brain.

  1. You might miss red flags. If you’re always missing red flags when looking through your rose-colored glasses, it’s not your fault. Being in love makes it hard for your brain to identify important warning signs. When you’re smitten, your frontal cortex, which is responsible for forming critical judgments, is partially deactivated. Instead of helping you recognize your crush’s faults, it crafts an idealized image of them.
  2. You think about them obsessively. Love affects some key chemicals in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine. When these chemicals are out of whack, your brain is triggered to obsessively think about your lover. In fact, love has a similar effect on the brain as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). If it feels like you just can’t get your crush out of your head, that’s why.
  3. You feel stressed. Research shows that the stress hormone cortisol is unusually high in the first six months of dating. This might explain feelings of anxiety, nervousness, or a fear of rejection. High cortisol can also cause issues like depression, digestive problems, trouble concentrating, and poor sleep.
  4. You can’t get enough of your crush. Even if being in love can be stressful on your mind and body, you’re still completely enamored with your crush. Just thinking of them makes you feel euphoric. While this might be because your crush is super special, you can also chalk it up to the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, the brain’s reward chemical, soars when you’re into someone. Every time you think of them, see a text from them, or spend time together, dopamine is released, creating an almost addictive response.
  5. You’re able to face your fears. Even though cortisol can increase feelings of love-related stress, there’s another mechanism that can help you overcome your worries during infatuation. Typically, the amygdala detects danger, protecting you from getting hurt. When you add love into the mix, though, this part of the brain shuts down, making you feel fearless.
  6. You become deeply attached to your crush. Sharing a genuine connection is an important part of a romantic relationship, and your brain is there to help you feel bonded to your significant other. It does this by creating oxytocin, often called the “cuddle hormone.” Oxytocin boosts feelings of security, making you feel attached and safe with your chosen person.
  7. Physical touch spikes those loving feelings. Think about the first time you touched or held hands with your partner. You probably felt butterflies in your chest or tingling in your skin. But those feelings are actually coming from your brain, through—you guessed it—the cuddle hormone, oxytocin. Holding hands, kissing, cuddling, and other forms of physical touch increase oxytocin, which boosts affectionate feelings.
  8. You stop noticing other options. Think you only have eyes for your crush? You’re probably right. Another effect of oxytocin is that it blocks the brain from recognizing other potential partners. You no longer notice attractive strangers, and you’re not even tempted to slide into the DMs of your hot friend. You’re only interested in your crush or significant other, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are These Brain Changes Permanent?

  1. Infatuation doesn’t last forever. A lot of the hormones that make you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster when in love eventually settle down. Some say that this happens by the one-year mark of a relationship. At that point, dopamine decreases, but so does cortisol, lowering the rewarding feeling of being in love while also mellowing out any romantic stress. Several months into a relationship, it’s common to feel like you’re not as passionately in love with your partner as you once were.
  2. Feelings of trust and security will grow. Even if you—and your brain—aren’t as chemically hooked on your significant other as you once were, you can expect a calmer, more stable love to develop over time. This is partially due to the effect of oxytocin on the brain. Many couples continue to have high levels of oxytocin even after the honeymoon stage, helping them stay committed and affectionate towards one another. If you and your partner have a happy, healthy relationship together, you can expect oxytocin to help you stay bonded and feel safe and secure together.
  3. You can train your brain to stay in love. While security is nice, some want more passion in their long-term relationships. If this is you, there are ways to help your brain feel more attracted to your partner. For one thing, it’s always a good idea to practice gratitude and recognize your significant other’s strengths, rather than only picking apart their flaws. It also helps to try new things together, especially activities that release adrenaline. A classic example is walking across a shaky bridge together. Your brain might attribute the arousal from walking the bridge to your partner, reigniting a spark. Though it might seem strange to trick your brain into falling in love with your partner again, just remember: your brain played a major role in your initial attraction, too.
Relationship educator, writer, host of the Relationship Reminders podcast, and mental health advocate hailing from the US and currently based in Tokyo