A Neurobiological Approach to Dating
Dr. Stan Tatkin has developed a psychobiological approach to couples therapy, and he’s also written several books about the interaction between neurobiology, attachment styles and relationships. In Tatkin’s book Wired for Dating, he explores how knowing some neurobiological principles, as well as your own attachment style, can help you form real and healthy connections.
To start off, Tatkin discusses the neurochemicals which are released when you meet someone new who you like. When you’re falling in love, dopamine levels go up (making you feel happy) while serotonin levels go down (making you feel less calm, and more anxious). This is nature’s way of helping people connect with each other initially. Eventually, these chemicals return to normal levels, but at that point oxytocin levels are up due to the closeness you have formed with the other person. Basically, our bodies are built to help us make and maintain relationships with people we care about over time.
Some challenges get in the way of this process, though. Tatkin notes that people on SSRI antidepressants have artificially increased levels of serotonin, which means that, “Someone who is taking an SSRI can go on dates and live off the excitatory chemicals in his or her brain and body without ever settling on any partner…this is an issue that can come into play in some cases.”
In other cases, individuals who experienced insecure attachment as a child due to neglectful or abusive parenting sometimes have trouble forming secure attachments with others. Individuals whose early caretakers were neglectful sometimes become “avoidant.” Tatkin terms them, “Islands.” The strengths of Islands may include independence, being high performers and being rational – but challenges include distrust of others, being conflict avoidant and struggling with close relationships.
Other individuals may have had early caretakers who sometimes provided love and support but also sometimes acted in abusive or hostile ways. These individuals may develop insecure attachment styles – Tatkin calls them, “Waves.” According to Tatkin, Wave strengths include empathy for others, emotional sensitivity and people skills, but their challenges may include struggling with oversensitivity, insecurity and dependent behaviors.
Luckily, even if you have Island or Wave traits you can work on developing a more secure attachment style through self-care, relationships with friends or a trusted therapist, and educating yourself about your style of attachment.
People with secure attachment styles are “Anchors,” according to Tatkin. Anchors are resilient, possess good conflict resolution skills, and generally are not intimidated by intimacy in relationships. People who come from family cultures that were loving and supportive tend to have a head start in developing Anchor characteristics.
To read more about how neurobiological principles affect relationships, check out Tatkin’s book, Wired for Dating.