This Is What Happens In Your Brain When You Miss Your Partner, & It’s Really Intense
The longing that comes from missing someone can range from minor feelings of sadness to downright agony depending on the relationship and the amount of time you've been apart. Naturally, missing your SO is a totally normal reaction to being separated from them. Whether you're apart for weeks, or if distance is a constant fixture in your relationship — we can all agree that pining after someone who isn't physically with you really sucks. So it's not surprising that the chemical reactions and what happens in your brain when you miss your partner can explain many of the feelings that may come up.
As humans, we are often driven by brain processes we have no idea are occurring on a conscious level, but that doesn't mean that the feelings arising from these processes don't affect us in very real ways. According to a study by Yeshiva University neuroscientist Lucy Brown, drug withdrawal and the withdrawal one might experience from a breakup or separation are very similar to the brain.
So, if your bae is away and you're wondering why you feel totally under the weather, then don't fret. To better understand what's going on in the brain of someone who's missing their SO, I spoke with Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of the Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, and licensed psychologist and founder of Rapport Relationships Jennifer B. Rhodes. However, before we jump into the science of missing a romantic partner, it's important to understand how romantic attachment works.
"There are a few neurochemical processes that are occurring for both men and women when they are in love," Silva tells Elite Daily. "Your body is releasing adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, in addition to testosterone and estrogen. Dopamine is what creates chivalrous behavior in men and intense attachment for women."
According to Silva, once you've fallen for someone, your body naturally speeds up its processing of these feel-good hormones, which creates a chemical intensity that is often described as "love." It's not long before our bodies become addicted to the euphoric feelings of love triggered by our baes.
"When you miss your SO, all of these processes are winding down and [can lead to] heartache. Essentially, your emotions are mimicking your brain when your SO is gone," explains Silva. Rhodes also points out that the length of the relationship impacts the way our brains processe feelings of longing.
"When our partner leaves on a business trip or is away from you, you may feel stressed (especially if it is a newer relationship)," Rhodes tells Elite Daily. "When we feel stressed we are biologically seeking validation that everything is okay from our partner."
This totally explains why those in longer relationships may feel less emotionally shook by being away from the one they love, as opposed to the panic you've likely felt when a new partner is out of reach for the first time. "The more emotionally secure you and your partner are, the less checking in that is needed and the less the hormones associated with the attachment process will affect you," explains Rhodes.
If you feel like you are currently living in hell because the person you love isn't with you, as someone who survived a long-distance relationship, I totally understand what you're going through. Luckily, there are also ways to combat the feelings of sadness caused by missing someone. "Engaging in creative acts can help you miss your SO less and it will have a positive impact on your mood," says Silva. "When we are being creative, our brains release dopamine, which is a natural anti-depressant." Even though, you might not feel like doing much of anything when you're feeling down, distracting your mind is a key part of overcoming the blues.
"Writing, cooking, drawing, photography, art, music, cake decorating, or coloring are some ways that you can divert your attention from not having your SO around," recommends Silva. While staying busy and creative can definitely help your brain curb feelings of withdrawal and heartache, it's totally OK if you're still feeling a bit sad. To combat this, Rhodes recommends being open with your partner about what your needs are and resisting the urge to let anxiety control your behavior. While talking on the phone for an hour every day you're apart might not be realistic, letting your partner know you'd like to make some contact daily is totally valid. Rhodes also recommends taking note of partners who "belittle" or "dismiss" your needs when you aren't together, because feeling safe and secure in your relationship (especially when you can't be together physically) is so important.
It's totally normal to miss your partner, but it's nice to know that there's a scientific reason behind why it feels so icky. Try to remember you're not alone — thousands of people have to deal with distance in their relationships at some point or another. At the end of the day, if handled responsibly, you might end up with a stronger relationship. After all, distance does make the heart grow fonder.
This post was originally published on Sept. 17, 2018. It was updated on Aug. 30, 2019 by Lilli Petersen.