Tag Archives: oxytocin

Adoring Strangers Remind Us to be Adoring Spouses


“We are probably missing so much about the people around us,” says one subject of a photographer’s project in a touching UpWorthy video. The project, called “Touching Strangers” involved a photographer picking out two or three strangers on the street and posing them like adoring family members.

The photos are quite beautiful, often with stark contrasts, and in most you would never know the people are not close in real life. Check out the short video to see for yourself.

The amazing thing is that the project could have been an experiment to determine how people would feel about one another after posing in that way. Many felt the physical touching and gazing at each other broke down barriers, provided comfort, made them care about the other person (whom they didn’t know at all), and gave them pleasant, lovely feelings. It’s “humanity as it could be” according to the announcer.

If physical closeness and looking into one another’s eyes can create this much caring and feeling in total strangers, what can it do for real family members? A lot. Physical touch is known to release the bonding hormone oxytocin. Hugging, holding, gazing—these actions make you feel close and help you to really see the other person deep down.

In our busy days, it’s important to create these moments in our own homes. That means turning off distractions like electronics and carving out a bit of time and space for real connection. Don’t forget to actually touch, snuggle, kiss, hug, and soak in those pleasant feelings.

Does this mean pretend to be close and loving? No, it means we don’t always feel affectionate and loving, particularly after a long day of challenges. But our actions (demonstrating love and closeness) can lead our heart to where it wants to be.

If it works for perfect strangers, it can work to inspire marriages, too.

For more details on how to incorporate more touch in your relationship, check out Little Touches Make Big Impact on Relationships.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

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.

Don’t bother rekindling your marriage … create something new

One of the most common requests from readers is for content on how to keep the spark burning in the marriage or to rekindle romance. Dr. Corey Allan has an excellent response to this age-old issue. Enjoy this guest post by Corey Allan, PhD, from SimpleMarriage.net.
 
There is a popular belief in the marriage and relationship world that when the doldrums hit and you find yourself more numb than really alive, you should look for ways to get back what you once had.

Call it a spark. A zest. A passion. Whatever.

The point is, something’s missing and since you once had it – you can go back and find it again.

Wrong.

Life is not lived backwards.

Our past is important.

Who we once were is what our spouse found attractive (since that person caught the eye of your spouse and reeled them in the rest of the way). But the previous version of you is long gone and trying to go back and find him/her is a path to more frustration.

While you may be able to produce a brief spark by reminiscing about when you were dating, it won’t be a lasting spark.

The main reason – you’re up against the “love drug” in your brain.

When you first met and fell in love with your spouse you both experienced a chemically induced high. Your brain flooded with a chemical called Phenylethylamine (PEA), which remains in your brain from 6 months to 2 years. PEA produces a feeling of euphoria, a sense of belonging, and a feeling of obsession (which is why you want to talk and be with your new found love every moment).

As PEA fades over time (and it will) many people believe that you can recreate the same levels of emotion within the relationship. Problem is, you can’t.

You cannot go back a manufacture PEA in your brain within the same relationship (although I’m sure the pharmaceutical companies are trying to figure out a way).

What you can do, increase the levels of Oxytocin in your system.

Oxytocin is known as the “bonding” chemical. It produces the deep connection to others, the lasting bond that long term relationships create. Oxytocin is released when you bond with another person – the most intense experiences are mother and infant while nursing and during orgasm. But other contacts create this bond as well: massages, eye contact, hugs, holding hands.

On the other end of the spectrum, going through crisis and tragedy together dramatically increases the levels of Oxytocin as well.

This is why it is worth it to work through the rough patches in marriage.

What it produces is a deeper, more lasting bond.

Now that you know what you’re up against when you face the monotonous times in marriage, here’s a couple of ideas to help up the Oxytocin in your life:

1. Catch romance where you can
You can learn to build romance at unexpected times — during your daily commute, while doing laundry — you can even do this through a long, lingering kiss or just holding hands. In other words, the next time you hear find you’ve got a couple of minutes to yourselves, make use of it — give that  Oxytocin a boost.

2. Nurture your separate selves
Having your own hobbies isn’t a sign you are drifting apart. On the contrary, developing individual interests allows for a richer life as a couple. Taking personal responsibility for your own well-being relieves the your spouse of the pressure to “provide” happiness — so go ahead and nurture some solo adventures. That’ll also keep each of you stocked with plenty of adventures to chat about, which also tightens your bond.

3. Take on a project together
Separate interests aside, exploring new ground together is also important since it strengthens your history of shared experiences (Oxytocin boost). Commit to run a 5K together. Create a project for your home or kids. Big projects together offer increases in Oxytocin because they are often filled with highs and lows, but the lows will create a bond as well. Couples who take on adventures together get a sense of daring and accomplishment that can really kick up their chemistry!

4. Touch each other (sexually and non-sexually)
The boost of connection you receive from human touch is huge. And every touch doesn’t have to be sexual in nature. Sure, sexual touch is important and will increase the connection, but so will non-sexual touch. Hold hands, hug, sit close beside one another, cuddle. Each little (or big) gesture can cause a boost of Oxytocin for both of you.

Got any more to add? Share them in the comments.

Thanks so much for the great advice!

Photo by manostphoto 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

Need a Quick Stress Reducer? Plant a Juicy Kiss on Your Mate.

We have already learned that touching is a great bond-inducer and stress-reliever. This is true for basketball players as it is for spouses. Research now says a specific kind of touching—kissing—is even more effective at reducing stress than other kinds of touching. That’s great news for kissing fans.

Kissing unleashes chemicals that ease stress hormones in both sexes. It also increasing bonding, at least in men. Wendy Hill, professor of neuroscience at Lafayette College, says the chemicals in saliva may be a tool for assessing mates.

For her research, Hill paired heterosexual college students who kissed for 15 minutes while listening to music. These students experienced significant changes in oxytocin levels (which affects bonding) and cortisone levels (associated with stress). Men and women had declined cortisol. Oxytocin levels increased for men, but decreased for women.

In the test group that merely held hands, chemical changes were “similar, but much less pronounced,” said Hill.

Hill presented her findings at a session on the Science of Kissing. Isn’t it interesting that such a conference exists? Her co-presenter, Helen Fisher of Rutgers University says 90 percent of human societies practice kissing. It’s three purposes are said to be for sex drive, romantic love, and attachment.

Fisher adds that men tend to think of kissing as a prelude to sex, and that they prefer “sloppy kisses” in which chemicals, including testosterone can be passed to the woman in saliva. (Testosterone increases sex drive in both men and women.)

If you find your marriage and family life is getting a little too stressful some days, make time for kissing. And not just as a prelude to sex. Talk about what kind of kissing you prefer, and when you like it best. Some marriage experts suggest lengthening your hello and goodbye kisses to at least 30 seconds. Taking this research into consideration, it may lead to a less stressful day or evening for you both.

Read Do You Kiss Like You Mean It? for common kissing mistakes.

 How many times a day do you think you and your spouse kiss? Consider increasing this number.