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Sex, Science, and Falling Out of Love

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What do sex, science, and the ever-popular phrase “falling out of love” have in common?

As I discovered, a whole lot.

It all started about three weeks ago at coffee with a friend. With a sullen countenance and furrowed brow, he muttered, “I think I’m falling out of love with her.” Focused on his internal struggle at hand, I dug, “I don’t understand. Can you tell me more?” “I’ll try,” he whimpered. “The last twelve months have been great. But it’s like something changed overnight. I don’t know how to describe it any other way other than to say I think I am losing feelings for her.”

And if my friend is having those feelings, I’ll bet he isn’t the only one who feels stuck and maybe even desperate in their relationship. In fact, in my most recent reader survey, nearly 53% of you said that the cause of your feeling stuck is due to some level of complication in your significant relationship.

So what’s with the whole issue of “falling out of love?”

Falling Out of Love

Here’s the answer you probably weren’t expecting: I really don’t know. But I’m pretty confident his change of heart didn’t happen as quickly as he described.

Falling in love is irrational and transcendent. And it is real. The heart-pounding, head-over-heels infatuation stage of excitement in a relationship is incredible (and irresistible). Maybe there’s a point though, that when the box office butterflies give way to familiarity, we still need make the intentional, selfless choice to love.

In short, love is a choice. But you probably know this. So below the surface of my friend’s troubled heart about his apparent “fall” out of love is a necessary investigation about past hurts, broken places, identity issues, and core values that shape current decision-making. To be honest, it was a moment of clarity for me.

A couple questions I’ve been led to ask myself lately are: which personal insecurities caused a pattern of dysfunctional decision-making in my own life? Additionally, which broken places caused me to pursue the same rejection and shame I received as an adolescent?

Pulling-back the curtain of my world, I’ve been in an unearthing process of restoring my true identity after several years of self-disqualification, shame, and subconscious attraction to rejection.

Yep. I said it.

So what gives? Is the early stage of romance authentic? I believe it is.

Love-Stoned

As a measure of scientific research, a 2005 study conducted by Harvard Medical School gives a bit of a glimpse into the matter. The study suggested, “When we are falling in love, chemicals associated with the reward circuit flood our brain, producing a variety of physical and emotional responses—racing hearts, sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, feelings of passion and anxiety. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase during the initial phase of romantic love, marshaling our bodies to cope with the ‘crisis’ at hand. As cortisol levels rise, levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin become depleted. Low levels of serotonin precipitate…the ‘intrusive, maddeningly preoccupying thoughts, hopes, terrors of early love’—the obsessive-compulsive behaviors associated with infatuation.”

But the same release happens in other emotionally-charged, exhilarating (even fight or flight) moments in life. And it’s for that reason we must make relationship decisions from a place of wholeness.

Point being, I believe chemistry is critical (you better feel those sweaty palms and that racing heartbeat!). It’s a necessary factor in the beginning of a relationship. But I don’t believe it is the only important component of a healthy, thriving relationship. The question is whether you want a lasting romantic partnership or simply a roommate.

And it’s the latter choice that causes even deeper wounds.

Oxytocin: For Better or For Worse

Sex is a God-designed, incredible bonding gift inside the marriage covenant. It’s in our DNA. We’re designed for physical bonding. We’re designed for procreation. We’re like freakin’ rabbits. Seriously, it’s true.

But whether you’ve never been married or have been married for years before, any stage of life that involves premarital (especially extramarital) sex is dangerous because the joining of two bodies and two souls is so much more than a physical act. And when oxytocin kicks-in, matters aren’t made any easier because it’s a bonding chemical! Worse, when a relationship terminates after a couple engages in premarital sex, it’s like trying to tape a ripped piece of paper back together.

The struggle is real.

Sexual purity is like a treasure to be protected. And the fight to “manage your appetite” gives weight to its precious value. This is precisely why I believe you have a sex drive before you should have sex—so that you give your spouse something you had to fight to keep.

But once you’re married, the fight doesn’t disappear. In a world that has counterfeited love for lust, the battle remains to keep your affections for your husband or wife uncontaminated and focused especially as the relationship evolves into the oxytocin stage. That said, for those whose past is complicated and riddled with even a tinge of regret, hear me clearly: there is absolutely no condemnation, no shame, and no hopelessness. Forgiveness, healing, and restoration is readily available as you pursue wholeness again.

Keeping the Fire Alive

Back to my friend’s concern about his apparent “falling out of love,” what he needed was a broader perspective about the stages of his romantic relationship and a strategy to keep the fire alive, so-to-speak. Even more so, he needed to reconnect to his own proclivities and pursue healing in any wounded area of life that would jade an otherwise healthy decision. Practically, the following are strategies to experience an intentional, thriving relationship:

  • My friend, Megan, said, “Be aware that you are in a relationship with an ever-evolving person.” Don’t assume you know everything about your significant other, especially as time passes. They grow and change. As such, your desire to know them intimately should, too. Rediscover your significant other!
  • Read helpful books: The Five Love Languages and Love and Respect are great starters.
  • Discover and initiate activities that fill your significant other’s emotional “tank.”
  • Chris said, “You can’t focus on loving someone the way you desire to be loved.” Chances are, your expression of love, though meaningful to you, won’t resonate with them.
  • Don’t shy away from self-awareness. You don’t know what you don’t know. Pursue health and wholeness body, soul, and spirit.
  • Seek counsel. There’s nothing embarrassing about professional counseling. In fact, I believe counseling will not only aid a troubled marriage, it will provide the skills and tools to make a good marriage a great marriage.

Fight for your love! Just because you may have hit a rough patch in your relationship doesn’t mean you should call it quits. After all, if we quit everything that’s difficult, we’ll end-up as a bunch of wimps. And that’s no way to live.

  • Amanda McBride

    I loved this article. I shared it with a friend last night. I even went back to read it again today and couldn’t find it. (Now I know why.) I have said things and wished I could take them back. God speaks through us sometimes in ways that can make us uncomfortable. Not with what was said but with how others receive it. Both versions were great. Don’t second guess the God in you. You’re doing good works. 🙂

    • Amanda, thanks again for all your encouragement and support. I appreciate you. Here’s a question: if I HAD to answer one question for you, what would it be?

      • Amanda McBride

        Would you like to get coffee with me sometime? So I can ask more than one question. 🙂