The Mystery Of Love: Understanding The Science Of Love And Relationship Satisfaction

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While many of us may have an innate understanding of the concept of love, we may not be as likely to have a firm grasp on the science behind this emotion. In general, neurotransmitters and hormones like dopamine and oxytocin play a role in feelings of love. Mirror neurons may help us feel empathy for our partners, and our attachment style may determine the way we relate to others in relationships. It can be crucial to determine what you need in a relationship and actively recognize and adjust potentially unhealthy patterns. This process can be challenging to go through alone, but working with a therapist can provide you with the professional insight you deserve.

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The science of love

Love can be a complex emotion that is often studied, examined, and analyzed by experts worldwide. After centuries of researching what causes us to feel love and how best to navigate this powerful feeling, it may be clear that there is an art and science behind the phenomenon we call “love”.

While everyday interactions can play a significant role in the mystery of love for many people, science can teach us how our bodies react when we become emotionally attached to another person. 

Neurotransmitters and hormones

When we fall in love, our brain typically releases powerful neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and oxytocin, and hormones, such as adrenaline and vasopressin. These chemicals can help us feel happy and connected to our partners.

This reaction can be activated by something as simple as a touch or gaze from our partner, often making it easier for us to experience intense feelings of love. These neurotransmitters and hormones may also help us form deeper bonds with our partners over time. 

Mirror neurons

A fascinating part of the mysteries of love can be found within the mirror neurons in our brains. These neurons are generally responsible for creating the feeling of empathy toward another person we usually experience in a relationship.

When we see someone else expressing an emotion or performing an action, mirror neurons normally replicate those emotions or actions within ourselves. This can give us insight into how others might be feeling, potentially helping to build understanding and connection within relationships. 

Attachment theory

According to attachment theory, how humans form emotional bonds with each other is likely based on how satisfied they felt in their relationships during childhood. This may then carry over into adulthood.

Those who experienced safe relationships during childhood tend to be more likely to form healthy relationships in adulthood due to having a safe base from which they can explore their identities and express themselves with their partners in a trusting environment.

Those who experienced unreliable relationships during childhood may find themselves seeking out unhealthy patterns of behavior when it comes to forming attachments throughout adulthood. This can lead them to feel unsatisfied in their relationships, even when they may seem perfect on the outside.

The mystery of love: The neuroscience

The mystery of love has frequently captivated scientists, psychologists, and ordinary people for centuries. We may all have an inherent understanding of the emotion known as love, but its neurological underpinnings remain largely unknown. In recent years, however, several pioneering studies have yielded new insights into this complicated subject. 


This hormone is usually released during intimate moments between two people in a loving relationship, such as cuddling, kissing, and holding hands. Studies indicate that oxytocin usually increases trust and strengthens the bond between two people, creating more profound feelings of love. This can explain why some couples feel closer when they are physically together rather than apart.


This neurotransmitter generally manages our moods and emotions. It is often called the “happy hormone” because it typically helps us feel contentment and satisfaction. When we are in relationships with someone we enjoy being around, serotonin levels tend to be higher, leading to greater feelings of love and attachment.


In addition to serotonin, dopamine is another neurotransmitter that frequently plays a role in our feelings of love and attachment through its reward pathways. 

Dopamine works mainly within the brain's reward system by triggering pleasurable sensations when certain activities or events occur—such as being around someone you love or engaging in activities with them that bring joy—which can encourage these behaviors to continue over time.

As such, dopamine is believed to play an essential role in keeping us feeling happy and fulfilled in long-term relationships.

Recognizing unhealthy patterns

Unhealthy patterns can be defined as behaviors or attitudes that can interfere with healthy relationship development. They can manifest as anything from avoidance, defensiveness, hostility, and negative self-talk to more subtle behaviors, such as codependency, manipulation, and control.

These behaviors may often lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety within relationships, which can cause them to become stagnant or break down entirely. 

Why do we engage in unhealthy patterns?

Sometimes, we engage in unhealthy patterns because we don't believe that our needs will be met if we express them openly and honestly. We might fear being judged or rejected if we're vulnerable with our partners.

Other times it may be a form of self-defense. For example, avoiding confrontation or shutting down when something is difficult to talk about may make us feel like we're avoiding potential hurt feelings or conflict within the relationship.

Identifying what you need in a relationship

To unravel the mystery of love, it can be essential to identify your unique relationship needs. Everyone tends to be different and may require distinct elements for their fulfillment. Take a moment to consider yours! Once you know what components are integral in fostering contentment, you can discern when they're not being met – signaling that maybe it’s time to shift gears.

How can we break the cycle?

It may not be easy to recognize when habits have become damaging, as they can be hidden beneath everyday routines. However, breaking these cycles usually requires us to look closer at ourselves to reveal and address our unhealthy patterns.

Once we do this work, it can become much easier to start creating healthier ways of relating with our partners. This could mean learning how to express ourselves more clearly and directly. It could also mean learning to compromise and negotiate more effectively when disagreements arise.

Most importantly, it can mean practicing self-love and self-compassion to build strong relationships with others from a place of safety rather than insecurity. 

Online couples therapy can be a great way to gain helpful insights into improving your connections with others. An experienced therapist may help you identify underlying issues and lead you toward strengthening existing bonds and forming new ones.

Learning more about love and relationships in therapy

Finding self-love and maintaining healthy relationships can be challenging, but therapy can provide the tools to help. Therapy typically offers a safe space to explore what it means to love yourself and how to create positive relationships with those around you. Online therapy, in particular, can be a convenient way to get professional help from the comfort of home.

Understanding your emotions 

Online therapy may help individuals clarify how they feel about themselves and how they interact with others. It can enable them to understand their emotions and why they respond the way they do when faced with specific situations.

This self-awareness can be crucial for creating meaningful relationships, as it may empower people to recognize their triggers and assess whether their reactions are healthy. 

Improving communication skills 

Through therapy, individuals may learn practical communication skills that help them express themselves clearly. This can be essential for building strong relationships as it may allow individuals to understand each other better, preventing misunderstandings.

Furthermore, communication skills may foster connection by allowing individuals to open up about their feelings and needs without fear of judgment or rejection from others. 

Building healthy habits 

Healthy habits can be important for self-love and forming meaningful relationships with those around us. Therapy may help individuals identify unhealthy habits such as avoidance, self-sabotage, or negative thinking patterns that may prevent them from achieving the confidence level needed for successful relationships.

It also can teach individuals healthy coping strategies like mindfulness, journaling, and exercise, which can reduce stress levels in difficult situations so that they can better handle any challenges that come their way when trying to build meaningful connections with others. 

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How online therapy can help

Online therapy for love and relationships has been gaining traction in recent years as more people understand the benefits of professional therapy to navigate the complexities of interpersonal relationships.

This type of therapy is generally backed by science, with research showing that couples who participate in therapy generally have improved communication, better conflict resolution skills, and heightened empathy and trust between partners. In some cases, couples who had almost given up on their relationship have achieved a deeper understanding and connection thanks to therapy sessions.

By working through difficult emotions and confronting any underlying issues, couples can ensure the long-term success of their partnership. However, both partners should be open, honest, and willing to cooperate if they hope for positive results from these therapies.

Therapist reviews

“Paul helped me open up about issues that have been bothering me my entire life. It felt like I let go of all the baggage I carried around with me from my past because of his counseling. He also presented me with techniques to improve my communication and emotions within my relationship which will be beneficial for me for the rest of my life. Thank you, Paul! I am truly grateful.”

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“Jeanne has been beyond amazing! She is helping me with my relationship struggles, learning to love myself and stay away from negative thoughts as well as overthinking. She is respectful and kind. I also appreciate her quick responses to my messages when I need help in the moment she is fantastic. Thank you, Jeanne! -Hannah”


The mystery of love can often be uncovered by looking at the science. For example, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine tend to play important roles in feelings of love, particularly in long-term relationships. The attachment style we develop as children usually follows us throughout our lives and can impact the way we relate to others. Meanwhile, our mirror neurons can enable us to feel empathy for our partners. To learn more about love and address any relationship challenges you may have encountered, online therapy can be a helpful tool.
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