Failing Relationship? Take Some Neurochemicals!
The one day of the year dreaded by the many people in, out of, and between relationships has come and passed. Being a huge neuroscience nerd, I spent much of February 14th searching for articles and scholarly papers about the neuroscience of love, sex, attraction, friend zones, what have you. But nothing really blew me away. In my third year of studying neuroscience, I have a relatively extensive knowledge of the brain. I certainly have heard all about neurochemicals being released during sex, when you’re constantly thinking (to the point of obsessing) about that special someone, and even when you just look at a photograph of them. And sure, it’s cool the first five times you read about how fascinating oxytocin and serotonin are. But I’m over hearing it.
And then I thought about long-term relationships that reach the point of boredom. We all understand the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship—we all have felt those butterflies in our stomachs and remember constantly thinking of our crush *ahem* Ryan Gosling *ahem*. But only those in the very committed long-term relationships understand what happens after this phase (which generally lasts for two years, believe it or not). You get comfortable together; certain boundaries that are present in the ‘honeymoon phase’ are crossed and you’re both fine with it. You accept that those butterflies got tired of flapping their wings and they’re ready to settle down at the bottom of your stomach while you settle down with your sweetheart. So how can we rekindle these relationships that have slowed down?
Here comes the good stuff guys- no more mushy gushy relationship business; we are now approaching neuroscience territory—neuroenhancement of love. Huh? Yeah, that’s right, researchers have been trying to figure out ways to salvage a failing relationship or marriage by playing with your brain chemicals.
Some of these are expected. For example, increasing pheromones or testosterone in both men and women also increases sexual desire, activity, and satisfaction. An increase in oxytocin may ‘reinforce pair bonds by giving the right drugs to subjects while they are in close contact with their partner.’ Yet there are some that will most likely produce controversy. Entactogen drugs encourage sociability, emotional connections and openness, and a decrease in anxiety. What are entactogens, you ask? An example: ecstasy (MDMA). Considering the stigma that ecstasy has attained, it seems unlikely to me that this will ever be an option for the forborne lovers. Another interesting prospect is corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). Studies have found that ‘upregulating the CRH receptor may promote partner attachment.’ But this one seemingly works by increasing fears of separation and being alone, so it has some pretty negative psychological side effects, such as depression and anxiety.
I think it’s important to assess the neuroethics of this whole shebang. Sure, committed companionship is important. But should we be playing around with our brain chemicals because we aren’t giving off or receiving the kind of emotional response we’re looking for in a relationship?