Many people have been studying and discussing the mysteries, the pains and the joys of love as long as humans learned to communicate with each other. With the discovery or reading and writing, personal experiences, as well as emotional and logical theories about love were left by earlier generations to the ones who followed them. These theories ranged from sensible and pseudo-scientific to bizarre and farfetched.

Only fairly recently, however, new discoveries of the brain have furthered the study of love by elevating it to a truly scientific level. This new field of study, called Interpersonal Neurobiology, draws its observations from brain neuroimaging studies and reflects the confluence of cross disciplinary works in the field of neurobiology, psychology and other disciplines. These studies are providing us with a glimpse of how the brain acts and changes when in a loving relationship and when in pain because of unrequited love, rejection or abuse.

Interpersonal neurobiology sees the human brain as a social organ that develops and grows through the emotional experiences provided by significant attachment relationships. The most important discovery in this area is the notion that the human brain, far from being static and genetically determined as it was once thought to be, is highly plastic and continues to be so throughout life, as it is changed by experience, and particularly by love.

While key experiences – and the experiential role of human relationships in particular – in the first years of life deeply affect a child’s brain structures either facilitating their growth or stunting it, this process of plasticity continues in adulthood and persists throughout life. So, when we experience healthy, close human connections where we feel emotionally safe, our brain has an opportunity to develop in healthy ways, expanding and changing by creating new synapses, while strengthening existing ones. Additionally, it is free to explore other areas of interest, together with a loved one or alone, because energy and attention are freed from worrying about safety in the relationship to exploration of the world.

When, on the other hand, we are exposed to interpersonal experiences that are unhealthy and excessively stressful and traumatic, our brain is negatively affected by such experiences and its growth is compromised.

The process of learning more and understanding the value and importance, as well as the power of intimate relationships is key to our wellbeing. This knowledge, in fact, allows each of us to take more power into our hands and become more aware and sensitive to how we affect and are in turn affected by the people who are the closest to us emotionally and at times physically. We can focus on being more attentive, compassionate and responsive to our love partners and, in turn, remove ourselves from relationships that are dysfunctional and traumatic, because these affect us in many negative ways that go beyond the present moment, not only at the emotional level, but at the physiological one as well.

The bottom line is: Healthy relationships allow us to grow, both emotionally and neurologically in a process that continues throughout life.

Isn’t this what you want in your life as well?

Daniela Roher, Ph.D.

Author's Bio: 

Daniela Roher, Ph.D. has been a psychotherapist for nearly forty years in a career that has spanned three countries in two continents. Dr. Roher’s passion for her work stems from a deep interest in human interactions and connections and keeps her at the forefront of the new science of relationships. She continuously studies and applies treatment models that best help couples identify, understand, address and resolve interpersonal issues, in order to bring intimacy and deeper connection back into their love relationships.

Born in Italy, Dr. Roher attended the Universities of Torino in Italy, Cambridge in England, Wayne State University in the US and the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute. The experiences she gained from her studies in different countries nurtured her discipline and love of knowledge and her appreciation of the many ways in which different cultures affect and shape the human mind. From her many years of studying and practicing as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, she brings an ever deepening understanding of the human journey, with all its challenges and rewards.

Dr. Roher lives in Arizona where she has a private psychotherapy practice counseling individuals and couples. When not in her office, her love for the desert keeps her outdoors, not wanting to miss any opportunity to be in touch with nature and observe the miracles that constantly unfold. She is also an avid blogger on various psychological topics, with a special focus on couples’ areas of conflict.

To learn more about Dr. Roher’s practice and to read her blogs, visit www.droherpsychotherapy.com or www.couplesatthecrossroads.com.