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Change Your Love Style


Getting Back to Love, by Joseph and Sarah Malinak, is a book about changing the love styles we learned during infancy and childhood so that we can make the kind of love connection we want. In The Chemistry of Connection, I described how our early experiences of mothering influence our brain development and neurochemistry. I see Getting Back to Love  as a sort of sequel to Chemistry. In their book, Joseph and Sarah Malinak explain how these early, pre-conscious experiences play out in adulthood.

In the book, they describe syndromes they call Mama's Boys and Daddy's Girls: People who never grow up into adult men and women.

"When a man depends on a woman for his worth as a man, he is invariably disappointed, because his worth as a man can only be sustained if it comes from within." (The same goes for women who define themselves by their worth to a man -- and, although the Malinaks don't mention this, I think it holds true for a gay man or woman who defines him or herself by their worth to a potential lover.)

Daddy's Girls are taught that the man is the most important thing in their lives, while Mama's Boys learn that their power comes only from women.

Mama's Boys and Daddy's Girls are created, according to the book, through lack of connection with their same-sex parents. Around puberty, boys and girls need to spend more time with fathers or mothers, who help initiate them into not necessarily gender roles, but rather, into the essence of femininity or masculinity. Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys and many other books, writes about this as well. And, of course, in this era of single-parent families, that can be especially difficult for boys.

The Malinaks certainly put some things in my own relationships in a new light. I am definitely a Daddy's Girl; this makes sense, because I always had a very hard time with my mother, and never felt that she loved me or cared for me (in the literal sense). For example, the way they described the dynamic of my struggles with Mike around housekeeping and maintaining our house helped me see it in a new way.

According to Getting Back to Love, the problem is my underlying belief that men can't be counted on. I know my mother felt this about my father -- and for the first 40 years of my life, I unconsciously pushed away any sweet and caring man who showed genuine interest in me. Moreover, they write, I unconsciously attracted Mama's Boys who tried to finagle me into taking care of them one way or another.

Okay, so how do you get out of this crazy dance? Their advice is to try to become conscious of these unconscious feelings and beliefs and then, when you do notice them, refuse to act on them. Their example felt a bit unrealistic to me: If you've each agreed to do your own laundry, but his just piles up in the middle of the floor, don't do it for him. Just ignore it. It's his responsibility, and he'll take care of it eventually. I have this problem with the dishes; Mike leaves his all over the place. It's pretty hard to ignore when I'm trying to make lunch and our very limited counter space is covered with dirty bowls and forks. Many times, I feel that he tries to maneuver me into nagging him. Because I learned hyper-critical behavior from my mom, it's easy for him to do. So, I guess I would have to give up being able to use the kitchen counters in order to have a healthier relationship? Durnit!

 After we become adults, it's equally important to spend time with same-sex friends, as well as opposite-sex friends and lovers, they write. Our friends "refresh" our femininity or masculinity, according to the Malinaks.

They also share their own love story -- and it illustrates how a healthy, oxytocin-based relationship develops. They met in a self-development program, and liked each other without feeling that intense, nerve-wracking romantic excitement (based on dopamine and norepinephrine) that characterizes romantic love. Instead, as they spent time together, Sarah one day realized that when love songs played on the radio, her thoughts drifted to Joseph. Then, as she moved more consciously toward him as a lover, the excitement came.

Then, they "did something neither had done before , either on a date or at the start of a romantic relationship. In clear recognition of their feelings for each other, they laid it all out on the table."

Ultimately, they remind us, "It's all about you." If you continually find yourself in relationships with someone who demands to be taken care of or bosses you around, it's because of the way you relate to others. Another way of saying this that I've always liked is, "Instead of trying to find the right person, try to be the right person."

Joy Goes to an Oxytocin Party

Joy-portraitsm My pal Joy Nordenstrom, CEO of, hosts romantic dinner parties and coaches clients on how to be more romantic. She also produces IntelligentLove: 411 for Men. In this series, she uses scientific principles to help men get more real love and connection with women.

She went to an oxytocin party, where people took oxytocin lozenges. I had always thought that you could only get liquid oxytocin with a doctor's prescription, but I have since found that this is not true!

Watch the video here: Oxytocin Party Video

A couple of notes: As I said in the comments, it should be noted that these people are holding the lozenges under the tongue, not swallowing them. It's debatable whether sublingual drugs reach the brain, but, since intranasal drugs demonstrably do, I think it's possible.

Shameless self-promotion: If you want to find out everything that science knows about oxytocin's effects on the brain, including how to naturally experience an oxytocin release in the brain, please buy my book, The Chemistry of Connection: How the oxyotcin response can help you find trust, intimacy and love.

Hospitals Use Too Much Oxytocin During Labor

An Ohio study found that, as the use of oxytocin (or Pitocin) to speed up labor was reduced, medical outcomes for mothers and babies improved.

According to Elsevier Global Medical News, Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton nearly halved its number of emergency C-sections in a three-year period by reducing its use of oxytocin.

Many hospitals try to keep labor on a predetermined schedule by giving a steady drip of oxytocin that's increased, also according to an arbitrary schedule.

“More and more data are showing us that we are using too much oxytocin too often,” Dr. [Gary] Ventolini, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the university, said in an interview.

In normal, unmedicalized labor, a woman's body releases oxytocin in bursts. These bursts gradually push the baby down the birth canal. Because the pressure on the baby from the uterine walls  is not constant, there's less of a chance of the baby's brain being starved of oxygen.

Some people also think that the excessive oxytocin flooding the baby's body via the placenta and umbilical cord can create an allergic reaction to oxytocin, or, in another theory, set the oxytocin receptors in the baby's brain to an abnormally low sensitivity. Either of these could result in autism spectrum disorder.

What Kittens Know

Last week, I put three fuzzy, squirmy kittens into a box and took them to the Berkeley Humane Society. No, I'm not an irresponsible cat owner: The Human Society had rescued them from an animal shelter, where they'd been dumped without their mother. I took them in to take care of them until they were old enough to be adopted. It was time for them to begin the journey to their permanent homes.

For four weeks, I was their mother. When I brought them home, they squealed unless they were against my body. I pinned up a long t-shirt to make a sort of kangaroo pocket, so that I coulIMG_0996d walk around and have my hands free while keeping them calm.

It was a lovely and intensely gratifying experience, and I'm sure my brain released tons of oxytocin -- especially when I'd sit down to read in the evening, and they'd cuddle up in my lap or between my shoulder and the back of the armchair.

But this is not still another post about how you can boost your oxytocin by loving a pet. I'm going to tell you a couple things the kittens told me about breastfeeding -- for humans, as well as kittens.

These little guys needed to be bottle-fed for the first week; I continued to give them the bottle for the second week, as they learned to eat solid food. They also preferred the formula to cat food.

Anyone who's had the opportunity to get to be around baby cats or dogs knows that they become individuals very early. When these kittens came to me at approximately four weeks old, the biggest one could inhale the bottle in two minutes. The other two had a really hard time figuring out how to suck from the bottle. The female never did get it. She would chew and chew on the rubber nipple; she finally chewed it off.  Luckily, she took to solid food the quickest.

The other male had difficulty for the first few days; he finally learned to center the nipple in his mouth and suck, instead of taking it between his teeth -- although he'd always take a few chews before he settled down to suckling.

To me, this says that there's only so much that a mother can do to help her baby breastfeed.  I know that mothers who unsuccessfully try breastfeeding can feel guilt or failure. Some babies simply may never get it.

I'll tell you what else I learned from the kittens in a later post.

Brain Scans Confirm Tend and Befriend Response in Women

When Shelley Taylor of UCLA published her "tend and befriend" theory, it sparked a lot of interest -- and it still intrigues people.  Taylor proposed that in times of danger or stress, women don't necessarily go into fight-or-flight mode. Instead, she said, their instinct is to seek the comfort of others, particularly other women.

This behavior had adaptive advantages, according to her theory: In prehistoric times, children -- the next generation -- couldn't survive without mothers. Women who were pregnant or nursing needed to stay close to their babies. If there was danger, the next generation's best chance for survival was for them to hunker down, stay still and hope for the best.

Men, who were more expendable in terms of their offspring's survival, needed that adrenaline jolt to defend their families and clan.

Women's increased sensitivity to oxytocin seems to be the basis of tend-and-befriend behavior. Oxytocin is calming, and the bond it creates between mother and child, as well as between friends, encourages women to come together.

Af fMRI study at the University of Pennsylvania found that this difference is mirrored in differences in brain function. Under stress, men's brains tended to become activated in the right prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response, according to the article. (I thought it was the amygdala.)

Women tended to show more activation in the limbic system (of which the amygdala is part), the part of the brain responsible for emotional responses.

According to the study, Gender difference in neurological response to psychological stress, the men's stress response correlated with increased cortisol levels, while the women's did not. (They did not check for elevated oxytocin.)

Here is the article in Science Daily.

Progesterone + Oxytocin Link in Female Bonding

A study by Stephanie Brown at the University of Michigan found that women who performed "closeness tasks" with a partner had elevated levels of progesterone in their saliva. Furthermore, a week later, the women with more progesterone in their spit were more willing to make sacrifices for the partner.

The study is "Social closeness increases salivary progesterone in humans."

According to the LA Times Blog, the study used progesterone in the saliva as a marker for oxytocin in the brain. Other human studies assume that increased levels of oxytocin in the blood correlates to increased levels in the brain; saliva tests for oxytocin are still being developed. Not having to draw blood makes these tests much easier for the researchers.

It's notable that the later coooperation task was playing a cooperative computer game, in light of some recent editorials saying people needed to get off Facebook and onto face-to-face.

According to the LA Times, in a press release, Brown said,

"Most of the hormones involved in bonding and helping behavior lead to reductions in stress and anxiety in both humans and other animals," the lead author of the paper, Stephanie Brown, said in a news release. "Now we see that higher levels of progesterone may be part of the underlying physiological basis for these effects."

Science Central has a good description of the experiment.

The bottom line: For women, hanging out with friends -- even if you're on the computer --  is really healthy, and makes you a better person. The same thing doubtless holds true for men.