Tag Archives: bonding

How to Naturally Increase Oxytocin, and Why This May Help Your Marriage

Oxytocin is the bonding hormone that helps you and your spouse feel bonded together. It has lots of other nice perks, too, like decreasing feelings of pain, reducing anxiety, lowering stress levels, promoting growth and healing, increasing feelings of trust, and stimulating positive interactions.

I read about an interesting study that showed by increasing oxytocin levels with nasal inhalers, participants became 80 percent more generous than the ones who inhaled a placebo. (Read about the study here.) Generosity has been shown in recent studies to be the secret to a strong marriage. It can also lead to increased intimacy, sex and bonding, which leads to higher levels of oxytocin. So, it’s a big, happy cycle.

This oxytocin stuff sound really great, doesn’t it? How can we get more of it? While there has been some talk of medical use of the hormone (in creams, inhalers and pills), there is much debate about its efficacy and its ethical use. Thankfully, lots and lots of natural actions can effectively increase oxytocin in your body. An increase could mean better feeling of wellness along with stronger feelings of bonding with your spouse.

Top Ways to Boost Oxytocin

Intimacy—Oxytocin is probably most well-known for stimulating labor and milk production in nursing mothers. It is also released by men and women at orgasm. It turns out that sex along with an emotional/loving connection provides a much stronger and longer response of oxytocin than does sex alone. More touching and kissing during lovemaking also makes the effect stronger.

Touching—Massage is a surefire way to boost oxytocin levels in the bloodstream. Lots of other kinds of loving touch can have a similar effect, from holding hands to hugging and snuggling.

Daydreaming about your spouse—A study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found happily married women quickly released a dose of oxytocin when asked to think about their husbands.

Pets—The touching benefit also works when petting your dog or cat. Lower your blood pressure and increase your oxytocin levels by petting and cuddling with your pet. (This doesn’t seem to work with my aquatic frogs, FYI.)

Sensory Experiences—Enjoying sights, sounds and smells that bring you comfort can boost oxytocin levels. Smells of foods you enjoyed while growing up, the sounds of the ocean waves or certain lighting can be effective, for example. When senses have a positive emotional connection, that seems to be the point of success.

Activity—Walking, swimming in warm water and physical exercise work well to boost oxytocin levels, says Kerstin Uvas-Moberg, PhD.

Deep interaction—eye contact with intimacy and “deep interaction” are also advised by Dr. Uvas-Mosberg.

Spirituality—Research has not proven this, but Dr. Uvas-Mosberg says prayer, contemplation and meditation may also increase oxytocin levels. Many of us would agree based on personal experience of positive feelings during or after these activities.

Adversity—This one also needs more study, but if you talk to individuals who have experienced a major crisis together, such as a plane crash, being held as POWs, or a natural disaster, they often feel extremely bonded together. Couples I interviewed and wrote about in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage expressed that instances of adversity—from losing a child, to financial crisis,  overcoming cancer, living with a brain injury, and much more—made them and their spouses feel closer together.

All but the last action items are pleasurable experiences that can boost your oxytocin levels, while the last item is often unavoidable, but it can strengthen your bond if you work together to overcome the adversity.  To read about how a dozen couples used real-life experiences to improve their marriages, you can find First Kiss to Lasting Bliss on Amazon.com or in various e-book formats. The marriages didn’t just survive; they became great love stories of hope and resilience that are great role models for the rest of us.

What do you think about the role of oxytocin in your marriage?  Is it really about feeling good, or is there something scientific that helps you stay bonded?

Order in time for Valentine’s Day: First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage , which tells the stories of a dozen amazing couples who used adversity to improve their marriage. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Sony, Nook or PDF. If you already have the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Photo by photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Schedule an At-Home Massage with Your Honey

Most ladies I know (including myself) absolutely love getting a massage. Many men do as well. New research adds to our understanding that massage not only feels good, but it’s good for us. Thanks to The Generous Husband for sharing the results of the study, completed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

I’ve previously shared the beneficial effects of touch, and that kissing reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that blood tests for those who received either a light massage or Swedish deep-tissue massage received the benefits of reduced cortisol. An added bonus was that volunteers received an increase in white blood cells, which help fight infection. Finally,  they increased oxytocin levels, which help you bond.

What would your partner think if you told them tonight you were going to give him/her a soothing massage? If that’s not your spouse’s favorite thing, ask him or her to schedule some time in this week for your massage. It’s a bonding activity that will help you relax and put the rest of the world out of your mind.

Here are some tips the pros use to enhance the massage and to set the right environment at home:

  • If you don’t have some at home, purchase some massage oil; it works much better than lotion.
  • Turn off your phones, TVs and other electronic devices.
  • Find some soothing music to play, and dim the lights.
  • Light a scented candle if you both like the smell.
  • Warm up the room if it is chilly.
  • You might have some warm towels available to help relax the muscles.
  • Give the person giving the massage direction on how hard you would like the touch and areas that are sore or need more attention.

If you have no idea how to give a massage, schedule one for yourself with a professional, or consider scheduling a couples massage so you can enjoy it together. Then, share the techniques you enjoyed most with one another. Giving one another therapeutic touch can be healing for the body and for the marriage. When is the last time you scheduled an at-home massage?

Photo credit: ©Hannes Eichinger/PhotoXpress.com

4 No-Talking Tools to Boost Your Relationship

My recent post on The No-Talking Way to a Better Marriage provided reasons why men react with extreme stress responses when women want to share feelings and discuss relationship problems.

The natural next step is to find out what strategies may be more effective for wives to address concerns or problems. Co-author Patricia Love suggests:

  1. Use nonverbal communication to connect and bond—Use touch (see article and research about the importance of touch), shared activities (games, sports, talking a walk), or sex to bond you as a couple. When you are bonded, women need to talk less, and men want to share more, so you reach a happy middle-ground. When you are closely bonded, it’s easier to communicate lovingly.
  2. Convey compassion—Love says she has learned that compassion is more critical to relational success than love. We convey compassion by learning to empathize with the other person’s emotions, even when we can’t relate to them. Put yourself in your partner’s role. See her fears. See his doubt or shame. Allow yourself to feel compassion for your spouse, rather than to focus solely on your own unmet needs. We may need to re-train our brains to mentally trade places, especially during a conflict.
  3. Develop a hand signal that conveys the love and importance you feel for one another. Use it when you are feeling those emotions, and also keep it handy for when you are having discussions that may turn ugly. If one of you uses this hand signal, it can help prevent arguments from getting out of hand by reminding each of you of the relationships’ priority.
  4. Use positive reinforcement instead of complaining. For example, say, “I really appreciate when you put your laundry away” instead of “Why do you let your laundry sit out for days? It drives me nuts.” It will just come out sweeter, and your honey will be more likely to comply and to remember next time how much it pleases you.

Here’s a longer article about the book if you’re interested.

Do you find any of these strategies helpful? I think bonding and positive reinforcement are particularly effective, and compassion can motivate us to love differently. Thumbs up or down on the hand signals?

Little Touches Make Big Impact in Relationships

 What can NBA players teach us about relationships? More than we think.  Benedict Carey of the New York Times wrote in February about research in Mind magazine in an article called “Evidence That Little Touches Do Mean So Much.” Researchers studied touch–everything from high-fives to warm touches on the shoulder.

One research team tracked every “bump, hug and high five in a single game played by each team in the National Basketball Association early last season.” The journal Emotion is to publish the results this year, but the results are telling:

  • Good teams tended to have more touches than bad ones.
  • The league’s top two teams were the most touch-bonded teams—the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • The least touchy teams were the Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats, neither of which had good seasons.

Guys, if this doesn’t get your attention about the importance of touch, what will? There is even a scientific basis for why we need touch. “A warm touch seems to set off the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps create a sensation of trust, and to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisole.” Women who may have high levels of stress hormones may especially crave this touch to help feel bonded. Once the stress hormones are reduced, the brain’s prefrontal areas (regulating emotion) can relax and proceed to solve problems.

“In effect, the body interprets a supportive touch as,‘I’ll share the load,’” says James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. “We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.”

Researchers also studies romantic partners, and preliminary results show the ones who touched more during interviews reported highest relationship satisfaction. While it’s unclear whether the touching or the satisfaction came first, there is certainly a correlation. For some people whose primary love language is touch, positive contact is even more important.

So, if you’re a man who feels you are sharing the load, but your wife doesn’t always respond in the way you expect, ramp up the amount of (non-sexual) touch in your home. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, here are suggestions. These are also good opportunities to increase your ratio of positive comments to negative, but even a touch alone is beneficial.

  • Give a hug before getting out of bed or starting your day.
  • Give a longer-than-usual kiss when you leave or arrive home.
  • Put your hands on her waist as she is cooking or doing dishes and kiss her cheek.
  • Touch her cheek, or stroke her hair at the end of the day.
  • Rub her shoulders when she seems tired or stressed.
  • Touch her arm when you ask about her day.
  • Sit close enough to touch or snuggle when watching TV.
  • Reach over when driving to momentarily touch her hand or shoulder.

Wives who are moms often turn to their children for positive touch. This can be helpful in releasing stress hormones, but if men are not part of this positive-touch pattern they are missing out on an important part of daily bonding. A bonded team is a successful team. Just ask the Lakers.

A soldier I interviewed said missing positive touch from his family was the most difficult part of his deployment. Do you take positive touch for granted? Do you wish you had more touch during the day? Are you surprised about the NBA study?