A quick explanation of the different ways intimate partnership can impact the nervous system.
1 MINUTE READ
UPDATED MAR 21, 2023
THE VARYING EFFECTS OF PARTNERSHIP
Partnership can have many positive effects on the nervous system, depending on the relationship.
Positive effects include increased oxytocin levels, which can promote bonding and trust, and increased dopamine levels, which can lead to feelings of happiness and pleasure. Oxytocin also helps to reduce stress and anxiety, can help to improve memory and learning, and also balances the autonomic nervous system.
Negative effects of partnership on the nervous system include increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress. Cortisol can also impair memory and learning, and can interfere with the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory.
Given that relationships are a highly subjective experience, the only people who have full context are the ones in the partnership. One simple question you can ask yourself is whether you feel nourished or drained more often after spending time with your current partner.
Overall, if you feel more nourished, it’s likely that your relationship is having a positive effect on your nervous system. If the opposite is true, then it's likely your relationship is a source of dysregulation. In that case, it's wise to consider making some changes, varying from expressing unspoken emotion, to setting boundaries, to leaving the relationship altogether.
Dysregulation is when the nervous system stops functioning properly and perceives events as stressful or overwhelming due to high allostatic load (baseline stress level). This happens when its baseline has moved significantly away from the default ventral vagal state, often due to chronic stress, trauma, poor sleep, and poor diet. This brings about a variety of problems, including anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and even autoimmune disease.
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