The beginning of a romantic relationship always brings along a bevy of whimsical feelings – we’re starry-eyed, in love, and can’t imagine having done life for so long without this person. Everything about him is new, incredible, and perfect to us. He can do no wrong in our eyes, and we tell anyone who will listen to us how amazing our new boyfriend is. And if you haven’t done or felt these things yourself, we’re willing to bet you’ve seen someone else go through it.
This period in a new relationship is often referred to as the honeymoon phase, a time during which we’re almost blinded by our newfound affection for someone, as Cleveland Clinic psychologist Chivonna Childs, PhD, explains, “You almost feel like you’re high on love. … It feels magical. Everybody seems perfect. You don’t see any flaws.”
To put it another way, it describes the infatuation we might experience before we truly fall in love with someone, if we do. But we aren’t trying to get swept up in our new, exhilarating emotions; this is just what we feel. So is the honeymoon phase a real thing backed by science and research, or is it just a term that was invented by people who hate love and happiness?
Is the Honeymoon Phase Even Real?
While not every single person will go through the honeymoon phase to the same extent, it’s a very real period that many do go through – so much so that scientists can pinpoint which of our hormones are rising (to the point where we’re overflowing with them) and which ones are lowering (we’ll talk about which ones in just a moment) and which parts of our brain light up when we’re in the throes of the honeymoon phase.
The honeymoon phase feelings are caused by a mixture of higher and lower than normal hormones.
Pat Mumby, PhD, a professor at the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at SSOM, said that the common phrase love is blind “is a valid notion because we tend to idealize our partner and see only things that we want to see in the early stages of the relationship. Outsiders may have a much more objective and rational perspective on the partnership than the two people involved do.”
Furthermore, Lori Schade, PhD, LMFT, said the honeymoon phase almost causes us to behave like we’re on drugs. In a sense, “You have more motivation. You have a seeking behavior. You’ll generally put out more energy. It’s drug-like because it’s a very real physical experience.”
What Causes the Honeymoon Phase?
The honeymoon phase isn’t something everyone experiences to the same degree. While many might find themselves falling under its spell, others might enter a new relationship with more managed, realistic expectations. But for those that do often fall into a honeymoon daze, here’s how that happens.
One study found that in the beginning of a new relationship, our dopamine levels rise, giving us a sense of euphoria, as well as upping our adrenaline and norepinephrine levels, which cause us to feel jittery, hyper, and restless. It also found that our serotonin levels are lowered, which “is common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders. … This may explain why we concentrate on little other than our partner during the early stages of a relationship,” according to Mary Lynn, co-director of the Loyola Sexual Wellness Clinic. But that’s not all. MRI scans show that areas in the brain, such as the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area (which makes dopamine), are very active when we’re in the midst of falling in love.
How Long Does the Honeymoon Phase Normally Last?
It’s understandable to assume that the honeymoon phase, with such high emotions and crazy hormones coursing through us, would probably last only a few months before it dies down. And while every couple’s honeymoon period won’t last the exact same amount of time, it’s generally agreed that it can last anywhere from six months to two years, which is a bit longer than we would’ve expected.
The honeymoon phase can last anywhere from six months to two years.
The honeymoon phase, to those in the relationship, will easily feel like much more than just infatuation, especially if it lasts past the one-year mark. At that point, we tell ourselves, we’ve been together long enough that we’d be able to know whether or not it’s true love or just lust. But because the honeymoon phase can last double that time, the reality is, we likely won’t have total clarity on a relationship and our boyfriend by the time we reach a year.
What Causes It To End?
We might think the end of the honeymoon phase means we’ve fallen out of love, or whatever that feeling was. We’re now able to perceive flaws, get annoyed, and don’t feel our heart jump anymore. While for some people, this might lead to the end of the relationship, for many, this is simply a part of the process of falling in love with a person rather than a feeling.
The emotional highs of the honeymoon phase can’t last forever, and the same study, cited above, states that there are three general stages of falling in love: lust, attraction, and attachment. Once we’ve reached the attachment phase, the study says, we’ve built up a tolerance for those hormones, which leads us to come down from the high of the honeymoon phase.
At this point, we’re able to see our boyfriend with more objectivity. His flaws aren’t as easily ignored, and some of his quirks stop being as cute. It’s also at this point that we take one of a few paths: We either choose to love them anyway and continue the relationship because we see enough positives that outweigh the negatives, or we slowly begin to fall out of love and find ourselves confused because we were once so deeply infatuated.
The end of the honeymoon phase certainly doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship. But it’s helpful to know the effects of the honeymoon period and how long it can last as we wisely navigate our romantic relationship.
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