Love holds a special place in contemporary western societies; we are no longer entering marriage for procreation, financial security, social or political security, or even for sex. Couples now enter marriage as a public manifestation of love. A Fowler (2007) suggests that, “love, as a cultural and social phenomenon, can be perceived in this light as one of the mechanisms human beings use in order to organise their world.”
But what is love? Scientific research suggests that oxytocin is the “love hormone,” it assists romantic couples with improved communication, trust and cooperation. Alternative research suggests that there are several hormonal stages that adults move through in the development of romantic love. The first stage is one of lust and sexual gratification which is driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen. The second stage is being love struck with a loss of appetite and inability to sleep or concentrate. The hormones that drive this stage are monoamines and phenylethalamine. The third stage is the attachment stage which is driven by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, the “cuddling chemicals.”
In contrast to the biological understanding of love, John Bowlby developed his attachment theory which was later elaborated upon by his colleague Mary Ainsworth. Bowlby suggested that human attachment is a strong affectionate bond that ties an individual to an intimate relationship. Bowlby’s ethological theory of mother-infant attachment may be the basis for understanding romantic relationships.
Bowlby suggests there were three types of attachment which could develop due to the nature of the relationship between the infant and the principle caregiver; they are secure (positive), ambivalent (dismissing), or avoidant (negative). If an infant experiences a secure attachment to their principle caregiver they tend to have lasting, trusting relationships as adults where they share intimate information. Infants who experienced ambivalent attachment as adults may become preoccupied with keeping their romantic partners close and firmly committed to the relationship. While infants, who experience an avoidant attachment with their principle caregiver, may, as adults, dread any emotional intimacy.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand