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Valentine's Day Special: Oxytocin May Trigger Long-Lasting Romantic Relationships

Update Date: Feb 14, 2013 01:18 PM EST

Oxytocin has been linked to trust and bonding, especially between mother and child. According to Scientific American, the hormone may also be responsible for happiness in romantic relationships - and may help you and your loved one celebrate not just this Valentine's Day, but many more in the future.

In a study published last year in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, psychologist Ruth Feldman, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, studied the role that oxytocin played in romantic relationships. Having spent years studying the role that oxytocin played in the bond between mother and child, Feldman was surprised by her data. She and her team looked at oxytocin levels of 43 single people and 120 individuals who had been in relationships for about three months. Three months later, they tested the oxytocin levels of 25 of the 36 couples who were still together.

The team found that couples with the highest oxytocin levels at the beginning of their relationship were more likely to still be together six months after their coupling. High-oxytocin couples were also more likely to be in tune with one another when the researchers asked them to relay a positive experience they'd had; they laughed and touched one another more often. However, the team was not sure whether oxytocin was responsible for the glue that kept the couple together, or whether couples who were not as well-matched simply failed to trigger the oxytocin system.

Another study sought to answer that question by giving couples oxytocin that they received nasally, in order to ensure that the hormone reached the brain. In a study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers asked couples about a source of conflict from them. Some couples received oxytocin; others did not.

The study found that women who received oxytocin were less likely to feel stress when discussing conflict. Men, on the other hand, felt more intense emotions. They also were better at communicating about their feelings. Since men generally tend to withdraw during times of conflict, researchers suggest that the administration of oxytocin could open up the lines of communication between partners.

A third study, published in Biological Psychiatry, sought to explain the role that genetics may play in oxytocin. Researchers found that, in women with a variation of the oxytocin-receptor gene, they were less close to their partners and more likely to report a marital crisis. Researchers believe that this variation may mean fewer oxytocin receptors, meaning that people with it would be less likely to feel the effects of the hormone.

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