The honeymoon period of a relationship is arguably the best part. The butterflies, the giddiness, the rush of future possibility–it’s like a drug. Getting to know someone and falling more and more in love with them as the months go by is an unmatched feeling and it’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. But is there more to it than just emotions and excitement? Science says yes.
What is the honeymoon period? When you first start dating someone new and everything about them is still perfect, that’s considered the honeymoon phase. During the first few months (or even years), your partner can do no wrong and everything about them is seemingly everything you’ve ever wanted.
What feelings are associated with the honeymoon phase? When you get into a new relationship, your partner is practically perfection personified. You idolize them in everything they do, you want to spend every waking minute with them, and you’re both on your best behavior. You can’t keep your hands off each other, not because you have the time but because the reactions in your brain are telling you that you need it.
How long does it last? It’s different for every couple. Couples that move a bit faster will see the death of the honeymoon period sooner because they settle into routines a lot quicker than couples who take it slow. According to many experts, the phase itself typically lasts anywhere from one to two years.
It’s physiological. The chemical reactions that are going on in your brain are at their highest during the honeymoon phase. The release of happy love chemicals causes you to see your new world and your partner through rose-colored glasses. Some of the chemicals that cause those feelings of romantic love are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin.
It’s all in your head… sort of. The greatness of the honeymoon phase isn’t something you made up, but one study using an MRI machine took people in that ‘new love’ phase and examined different areas of the brain. They looked at the ventral tegmental area, the part of the brain that helps process emotions. The results were pretty wild.
The neurological light up. In the study, they also looked at another area of the brain—the caudate nucleus—which is important in both memory and learning of new experiences. This area was activated to a higher degree than in those who were experiencing that new relationship passion. The areas in the brain were also full of dopamine, the hormone behind feeling rewarded and motivated.
It affects women a little differently. When women are madly in love, they experience the same rush of reward and happiness, but they were also shown to experience higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This means that even during the honeymoon period, women are more biologically stressed-out than their male partners.
The honeymoon period can boost health. Being passionately in love can also have some major health benefits. Research has shown that people in the beginning stages of a relationship had more of the nerve growth factor protein in their bodies. This protein helps neurons to function and also elicits higher feelings of connection and euphoria.
It all ends eventually. As soon as those initial feelings of passion begin to fade, bickering starts, and efforts dwindle in the face of routine and sameness. And that same research found that the nerve growth factor was partly to blame for this because it all but returned to normal in couples who had been together for a year or two. Basically, there’s no way to keep the honeymoon period going for much longer than that.
There are ways to keep the love alive. Couples who participated in challenging activities together and kept up the same ‘newness’ with their relationship were actually able to enhance those feelings of the honeymoon period, even if it wasn’t to the same degree as when they first got together.