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Setting Good Expectations

Are you looking for love but finding disappointment? You may be asking for too much too soon. Five experts shed some light on what to expect from romance.

The Biology of Love

"When a man and woman fall for each other, it is in our biological best interest to become a little bit obsessed with each other. There are changes that occur in our brain chemistry to make that happen," says psychologist Dennis Sugrue, PhD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and co-author of Sex Matters for Women.

Those changes, he says, not only help drive the mating process, they are also responsible for that "honeymoon high."

"It's also why sex can seem so incredible and occur so much more frequently at the start of a relationship than it ever will later on," says Sugrue.

The bad news is this surge of delicious brain chemistry doesn't last. Fortunately, however, while all this passion is stirring in our brain, a slightly different state of mind is brewing elsewhere in our psyche -- a purely psychological phenomenon that experts call "bonding."

"When the initial brain chemistry involved in the 'honeymoon' phase is over -- which it eventually is -- the bonding kicks in, a feeling of closeness and 'coupling' that actually helps keep the man and the woman together over time," says Sugrue.

In fact, at least one aspect of this tantalizing chemistry lesson was recently proven by a group of Italian researchers. In this study, doctors looked at three groups: The first was patients diagnosed but not yet treated for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD); the second group was couples who were newly in love; the third group was composed of "normal' people.

Using a series of blood tests, researchers screened all three groups for levels of a chemical that shuttles the mood regulating neurotransmitter serotonin in and out of brain cells. It was already known that serotonin levels drop in folks who have OCD. It's part of what drives their obsessive behavior. So, it was no surprise to find a low level of the transport chemical in this group. And, by comparison the group of normal folks had normal levels.

But what was exciting and new: The discovery that couples who were newly in love had the same low level of this serotonin-related chemical as people with OCD. This, say experts, could mean that what we feel for our partner at the very early stages of love -- and to some extent the headiness of being in love -- may be hard wired into our brain chemistry, and pretty much out of our control.

Working It Out When That Loving Feeling Goes

But while the exhilarating feeling of new love may fade as time goes by, Lowe says that's not a reason to run for the hills the minute problems in the relationship arise.

In fact, Lowe tells WebMD that couples who stay together and work through their difficulties often find that happiness -- and a good deal of the passion -- returns in the long run.

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