Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Addicted to Relationships

Relationships are all about connection. We humans crave connection so much that infants who are not touched lower their survival rate by significant percentages. Partnered men outlive single men. People in relationships report higher happiness levels overall than singles. Why do we crave connection? What drives us to be in a relationship?

Early humans lived in groups or clans. They did this for a variety of reasons, most of which were related to survival. A lone human had a much greater chance of being attacked by a predator than a group. Clans were capable of hunting larger prey as a result of group dynamics. Women found their roles as gatherers and mothers easier when shared. Humans could huddle together for warmth in cold climates. Procreation was easier in a group setting. These early groups became an extended family with leaders. This structure provided security and safety for members. Clans gave the group another important reason to stay - connection. The shared intimacy in these small groups gave members an emotional link to one another. This emotional bond created the feeling that the clan was a family and increased the odds of survival of the group. Those groups that survived as a result of emotional bonds are our ancestors.

We have evolved over the millennia in many ways, but the basic emotional structure of humans remains. We crave connection because it allows us to feel that we belong. This feeling of belonging creates emotional safety. We are at once part of a family and protected. This is especially true during childhood. Small children are completely dependent on caretakers for survival. In order to ensure the continuation of the human race, we are hard wired in both our DNA and neurological pathways to find pleasure in connection and to seek it. When we experience pleasure we secrete powerful chemicals in our brains that cause us to repeat the pleasurable experience. Our DNA causes us to seek connection instinctively. Our brains cause us to become biochemically addicted to the pleasurable feelings we derive from connection. We are literally addicted to our connections.

This addiction explains the intense emotional and physical response we may have when we lose an important connection, whether through death, long term physical separation or the ending of a relationship. We crave the biochemical substances that we produced through our connection. Over time we adjust to the loss as we increase the value of other connections in our lives to compensate.

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