You’ve heard how falling in love is all about chemistry, but do you know what that actually means? From the moment your eyes meet, your lips touch and you become lovers, a whole cocktail of neurochemicals – brain molecules that control the function of your nervous system – is activated to determine just how deep your connection will go, and ultimately how long it will last.

Why not use this information to understand what’s going on between you and your significant other, to improve your chances at long-term love and passion?

romantic chemistry couple
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Chemical attraction

Why do some first kisses lead to fireworks while others fizzle out? You might think it has to do with the right time, the right place and the right technique, but that’s not the whole story.

“When your lips touch someone else’s all these little neurochemicals are activated,” says relationship counsellor Amanda Lambros. “It happens so quickly you don’t even know.”

Those chemicals include dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin – a trio of feel-good hormones that act together to ignite the pleasure centre in your brain and make you crave more.

What this means for you:

If you make frequent kissing a priority in your relationship, you can keep those pleasure chemicals firing over time. “The more you kiss, the more you want to kiss,” Amanda explains. “This increases the feelings of closeness and intimacy, which is exactly what you want in a relationship.”

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Lust has a shelf life

When you first fall in love, you’ve got all those excitement hormones sparking but at the centre of it all is phenylethylamine (PEA), a natural amphetamine that fuels feelings of infatuation and euphoria.

“It’s like an addiction,” says behavioural neuroscientist Dr Femke Buisman-Pijlman. “You experience pleasure and craving like what we see in initial drug use.” But experts say you build up a tolerance to the giddy effects of PEA anywhere between six months and three years.

What this means for you:

Be prepared for the honeymoon period to end, but trust that a new phase will begin. “There is a hormonal shift to a different kind of pleasure that comes with familiarity,” says Dr Buisman-Pijlman. “This is mediated more by oxytocin, the ‘cuddle’ hormone produced when you are close to someone you trust. This shift from ‘wanting’ to ‘liking’ and ‘loving’ is very important for partner-bonding.”

When your lips touch someone else’s all these little neurochemicals are activated. It happens so quickly you don’t even know.

Relationship counsellor Amanda Lambros

Lover compatibility

When it comes to mutual attraction, looks definitely count, and so do shared values and interest. But what you’re also picking up on is whether you complement each other chemically. According to US biological anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher, “There are two parts of personality. There’s character, which is everything you grew up to believe and do and think; and then there’s temperament, which is your inherited traits.” Dr Fisher has identified four basic personality traits, each associated with the dominance of certain brain chemicals.

Dopamine is linked to adventure-seeking and risk taking; oestrogen is empathy, intuition and social skills; testosterone to decisiveness and tough-mindedness; and serotonin to loyalty, traditionalism and calm.

What this means for you:

Dr Fisher’s research has determined that adventurers seek adventurers, while those high in oestrogen are drawn to the testosterone-driven and vice versa. But she maintains that any combination can result in a good relationship – if you use this information as a tool to figure out how to understand each other. And if things don’t work out, well, then clock it up to the fact that your chemical profiles just didn’t fit.

romantic chemistry couple
Credit: Envato

Changing your routine can benefit your relationship

Developing a familiar routine can be comforting, but over time it can kill romance. Any habit you develop – whether it’s taking the same route to work every day or doing the same things with your partner day in, day out – may become ingrained so deeply that, neurologically speaking, you get stuck in a rut.

What this means for you:

It’s in your power to retrain your brain. “When you or your partner do something novel, it reactivates the PEA,” says Amanda. “Sending flowers, leaving love notes, travelling somewhere new – anything that gets you excited and stimulated will shake you out of routine habits and rewire your brain.”