Relationships

15 Ways A Man's Brain Changes When He's In Love

Judgment is impaired, for one.

All the different ways a man's brain changes when he's in love, according to science.
Studio4/E+/Getty Images
Updated: 
Originally Published: 

The process of falling in love can be a powerful, life-changing thing. In those early days of romance, you may act differently, think differently, and sometimes even dress or talk differently. But once you mix in a few societal expectations, there are actually a few differences in how a man falls in love — including what goes on in his brain.

“Societal norms definitely can play a role in how men experience or express falling in love, compared to women, based on what is socially accepted,” Dr. Holly Schiff, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. And i’s interesting to consider things from this social and psychological standpoint, especially if you’re dating and trying to figure out why men think and act the way they do.

As an example, “falling in love can be different for men in terms of their ability to share with their friends,” Schiff says. “Women are often quick to share their emotions and attachment to a new partner, whereas men may be made fun of or given a harder time if they share that they are falling in love.”

That certainly isn’t true for everyone, and it’s important to consider how it might be different for those who don’t identify as a straight, cis male. But for some folks, these pressures do play a big part in what it’s like for a man to fall in love. Read on below for more info on what falling in love does to the brain, as well as a few psychology facts about guys in love.

1

They’ll Feel “High” On Love

At the start of a relationship, “the brain produces a very high level of a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA),” licensed professional counselor Dr. Jake Porter, LPC, tells Bustle, which is why falling in love often feels so addicting.

“This naturally produced amphetamine is what makes people ‘high on love,’” he says. It also explains the feelings of joy, increased energy, and excitement associated with the early or honeymoon stage of a relationship.

According to Schiff, there are also overlapping neurochemical responses in the same areas of the brain for both substance addiction and love, which can be spotted on brain scans. This is because a new romantic relationship floods the "reward" center of the brain, resulting in new partners who feel positively obsessed with each other.

2

Judgment Is Impaired

Ever notice how a love interest seems perfect in every way? That’s the PEA talking. It contributes to a bias toward the positive, Porter says, and it also plays an important role in nature’s “mating sequence” — aka the urge to stick with this “perfect” person long-term and maybe even make a baby.

“The high of PEA impairs our judgment causing us to overlook aspects in our new partners that we would otherwise find concerning or annoying,” he says. “Ideally, this clouding of judgment lasts long enough for us to form a more long-lasting bond, at which time those things start to bother us, but not enough to end the relationship.”

3

He’ll Form Positive Memories

The brain is also busily working on forming good memories and cute associations in the early days of love. This is all thanks to the neurotransmitter oxytocin, Schiff says, which is better known as the “love hormone.”

“It helps the brain form fresh, positive memories with a new partner and form new neural connections, which helps to get rid of some mental baggage from past relationships,” Schiff tells Bustle. “It also helps deepen feelings of attachment towards your partner.”

4

He’ll Experience A Sense Of Euphoria

Men in love tend to feel extra happy, which is also due to what’s going on in the brain. “When a man falls in love, high levels of dopamine — a chemical associated with the brain’s reward center — is released so he will feel a natural high and sense of euphoria,” Schiff says.

The release of dopamine also contributes to the physical sensations of love. "It may create a feeling of your heart racing and sweaty palms,” psychotherapist Kimberly Hershenson, LCSW tells Bustle, as well as an attraction to all things romance.

5

Love Deactivates Their Fear Of Social Judgment

ProfessionalStudioImages/E+/Getty Images

“Falling in love also deactivates the parts of the brain that govern social judgment and fear,” Schiff says. “So being in love and not caring who knows it is a real phenomenon.”

In a man’s case, Schiff says this may allow them to let their guard down just enough to be “mushy” in public — something that may typically be considered feminine and thus avoided.

It’s why your partner will want to hold hands, swing from lampposts, and/or shout from the rooftops that they’re in love.

6

Men May Fall In Love Faster Than Women

If it seems like men typically fall in love faster than women, it could be chalked up to society’s gender roles. “Men may feel like they have to fulfill the expectation of taking a leadership role in a relationship,” Schiff says, thus jumping into relationships quickly in order to settle down.

On the flip side, a woman might take longer to fall in love because her focus is on selecting the best mate possible for reproduction, Schiff says. This is just a stereotype, however, as obviously doesn’t apply to everyone.

7

A Man In Love May Feel Less Pain

Here’s a cool love fact: "Love is so powerful that in laboratory tests, it reduces pain by half," says Dr. Jarred Younger, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and associate professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham who has conducted brain scans on men and women when they're in love. "It does so by sending messages down to the spinal cord to block the pain messages before they reach the brain."

8

Love May Help Men Quit Smoking

As part of his research on the subject, Younger also found that a new romantic relationship may change a man’s brain chemistry in a way that makes it easier for him to stop using addictive substances, like cigarettes. So if a dude suddenly ditches his smoking habit once he starts dating you, he very well may be falling in love.

9

Everyone Else Fades Away

When they’re truly in love, it can be tough for many heterosexual males to “see” other folks in the dating pool, Younger says. This is yet another effect of good ol’ oxytocin, which has been found to enhance the brain’s reward system when a man looks at his partner’s face. As their brain bathes in feel-good chemicals, they’ll feel certain their partner is more attractive and desirable than anyone else.

10

Their Chemistry Changes As The Relationship Goes On

ProfessionalStudioImages/E+/Getty Images

Let’s say you just started dating a man. If you somehow had access to a brain scan and were able to take a peek inside their head, Younger says you'd actually be able to tell whether or not they’re going to stay in love with you long-term.

“Brain scans at the beginning of the relationship can predict who will still be in a strong relationship 40 months later," he says. That isn’t to say, however, that it will be the same type of love experienced in the early days.

"Over time, the brain chemistry in men may change as the relationship shifts from intensely passionate to more familiar, comfortable, and intimate,” Younger says. “However, some men and women remain intensely, passionately in love even 20 years later. Those individuals still show activation of the reward areas of the brain."

11

He May Seem A Bit Guarded

Diving back into the psychology of love, let’s talk about how some men feel in the process, again based on society’s expectations.

Some may react by putting up an “emotional armor” in order to protect themselves from getting their feelings hurt. This is a direct response to a fear of vulnerability, clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow tells Bustle, and it’s often interpreted by others as disinterest.

That's not to say men always put their guard up. Despite stereotypical notions about men's inability to express emotions, Klapow says plenty of guys are able to embrace their vulnerability — and are plenty comfortable showing it.

12

He May Look For Ways To Provide

Again with the gender roles, a man in love is more likely to look for ways to provide for the person he’s falling for, Porter says. This is when he might take on extra hours at work, often to the detriment of his relationship. “I do believe hard work can be an expression of love from men,” Porter says. “What is needed in these situations is some balance between work and home.”

13

He May Be Hyper-Focused

Another way a man might react, psychologically speaking, is by carving out more time in his day for the person he’s falling in love with. "When men are dating, but not yet in love, the relationship will fit into their life,” Klapow says. But once they’re in love, they will find ways to fit themselves into yours.

It could be argued that the change stands out more in men compared to women due to the way women are conditioned from a young age to put others first. “When in love, a man will begin thinking of your [his partner's] needs and wants before his," Hershenson says. "He’ll become willing to compromise and makes sure you [his partner] feel safe and supported."

14

He’ll Be Extra Kind

It’s not necessarily that you’re only kind if you’re in love. But lots of people really do try harder to be nice once they're head-over-heels — men included. "They become acutely aware of their behavior and how it affects their partner," Klapow says, adding that this is when men will look for ways to be sweet. Think buying flowers or gifts.

This is the stage where he might try harder to impress with his appearance. "A man in love may pay attention to things he typically doesn’t pay attention to, like how he is speaking and his personal hygiene," Klapow says. Again, this is not always the case, but a fun thing to look for all the same.

15

He Says “We” Instead Of “I”

Studio4/E+/Getty Images

For one last fun fact, you might notice that a man in love changes his language based on his feelings. So be on the lookout for terms such as “we” or “us,” Hershenson says, instead of “I” when he’s talking about future plans or making decisions. If you've ever done when falling in love, then you already know it means you’re pretty darn happy with someone — and are starting to see them as a part of your future.

Studies referenced:

Fisher, H., Xu, X., Aron, A., & Brown, L. (2016) Intense, Passionate, Romantic Love: A Natural Addiction? How the Fields That Investigate Romance and Substance Abuse Can Inform Each Other. Frontiers in Psychology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=27242601

Savulescu, J. (2008). Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage: The Chemicals Between Us. Neuroethics. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12152-007-9002-4

Scheele D, Wille A, Kendrick KM, Stoffel-Wagner B, Becker B, Güntürkün O, Maier W, Hurlemann R. Oxytocin enhances brain reward system responses in men viewing the face of their female partner. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Dec 10;110(50):20308-13. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1314190110. Epub 2013 Nov 25. PMID: 24277856; PMCID: PMC3864312.

Wagner, U. (2018). When Does Oxytocin Affect Human Memory Encoding? The Role of Social Context and Individual Attachment Style. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6158322/

Xu, X., Wang, J., Aron, A., Lei W., Weatmaas, J.L., & Weng, X. (2012) Intense passionate love attenuates cigarette cue-reactivity in nicotine-deprived smokers: an FMRI study. PLoS One, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=22860092

Xu, X., Brown, L., Aron, A., Cao, G., Feng, T., Acevedo, B., & Weng, X. (2012) Regional brain activity during early-stage intense romantic love predicted relationship outcomes after 40 months: an fMRI assessment. Neuroscience Letters, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=22902992

Younger J, Aron A, Parke S, Chatterjee N, Mackey S. Viewing pictures of a romantic partner reduces experimental pain: involvement of neural reward systems. PLoS One. 2010 Oct 13;5(10):e13309. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013309. PMID: 20967200; PMCID: PMC2954158.

Experts:

Dr. Holly Schiff, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Jake Porter, LPC, NCC, CSAT, CMAT, CPC, CCTP, licensed professional counselor

Kimberly Hershenson, LCSW, psychotherapist

Dr. Jarred Younger, neuroscientist and associate professor at University of Alabama, Birmingham

Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist