We already know that genes are responsible for traits we inherit from our parents, grandparents and even up to our more distant ancestors. But interestingly, the impact of our genes is not only limited to us acquiring specific physical characteristics. Scientists have found that genes also play a role on how each one of us process hormones differently and influence our love-relationships as well.
Hormones are regulatory chemical substances produced in our body that influence our behavior. They play significant roles in how we feel or or act on certain impulses. The well known “fight, flight, or freeze” response is also said to be caused by our hormones. But more than that, hormones also have a special part in how we develop and create loving relationships in our lives.
Dr. Melanie Greenberg writes on Psychology today, that we have different hormones involved in each the attraction phase and the attachment phase of developing relationships.
During the attraction phase of relationships, three hormones are said to be active (norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine) which are all responsible for our ways on how we react and feel when we’re developing a crush.
Norepinephrine is the culprit for the anxious feeling we get when our crush is nearby, that so-called “butterflies in our stomach” when someone we admire is within proximity. Part of developing a crush is also developing obsessive thoughts about the person, which is caused by Serotonin. When you figure that you just can’t stop thinking about that guy or girl you saw in the subway or that cute barista in the coffee shop you went to this morning, you have Serotonin to blame for that. Lastly, the feel-good feeling we get when we see the person we like is caused by Dopamine. It is responsible for moments when the mere presence of a crush is enough to turn a bad day into a good one.
On a different note, there are also different hormones responsible for the attachment phase of a relationship: oxytocin and vasopressin. The attachment phase of a relationship is a special kind of relationship between individuals. In fact, anthropologists and ethologists call it a “pair-bond” which is also experienced by our distant relatives in the animal kingdom. The oxytocin hormone, or more popularly known as the “cuddle hormone” is responsible for the sense of attachment we get to someone we cuddle with. Moreover, it is also responsible for the deep feeling a mother feels for her child during childbirth and the child to his mother, and surprisingly, the special relationship an individual shares with his or her pet dog. According to Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, scientists have found that dogs and humans both release oxytocin when they share eye-contact which helps develop a stronger attachment between the two.
Vasopressin, the second hormone active during the attachment phase, is responsible for “partner selectivity”. This hormone is the reason why in the long run, we only prefer the presence of a specific person, our partner. It’s that feeling why different activities day-to-day don’t make much significance when the person we are pair-bonded with is not there.
Knowing all of these hormones and their relation to developing relationships, one may ask how genes come into play and affect this aspect of our lives. Well, scientists have found that some genes make some us process hormones differently. Some may produce more oxytocin than others, and some may not even produce much vasopressin to affect one’s partner selectivity. This connection between genes, hormones, and relationships is responsible as to why we have different relationship styles.
Although relationship styles are not exclusively attributed to this phenomenon, scientists still believe that its effect is undeniable. The interplay of genes, hormones and attachment/attraction can explain why people cheat, and why others prefer a monogamous relationship. It’s also a possible explanation on why some people are easy to fall-in or fall-out of love.
To summarize, there is a new body of research that supports the interplay of genes and hormones, how it influences attraction and attachment and our differences in relationship styles. This new knowledge helps us understand why some people develop monogamous relationships and why others prefer a polygamous one or even why some people have strong relationships with pets and other do not. Even further, it also helps explain why others have a more tendency to cheat. So the next time you wonder why your partner is cheating, you may want to consider looking deep into his or her biology and ancestry.
The Science of Love and Attachment by Melanie Greenberg (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201603/the-science-love-and-attachment)
Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society by Nicholas A. Christakis