What Is Chemistry in a Relationship? Learn How to Recognize the Signs
We've all experienced chemistry in a relationship at some point. Maybe you felt an instant, inexplicable connection from the first date. Perhaps when you thought of them, there was a fire in your belly. The connection could even defy reason. Still, something drew you to this person like a magnet.
Wondering whether you have chemistry in your relationship? Keep reading for the inside scoop.
What Is Chemistry?
"Chemistry is energy," says relationship coach Jaime Bronstein. "It's an energetic connection you can feel." Some indicators of this connection are body language cues like butterflies in your stomach, a rapid heart rate, smiling and prolonged eye contact between the two of you.
Many of these biological processes are caused by a rush of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, the "feel-good" hormone, and serotonin, the mood regulator. "There's so much going on biologically in the brain as people fall in love," says Karen Bridbord, a Gottman-certified therapist. "It's like a drug."
While many of us equate chemistry with the heart-pounding, energetic feeling people get when they first meet someone they click with, Bridbord says that's actually limerence, the feeling of infatuation that appears during the initial stage of a relationship.
Bridbord and Bronstein agree that true chemistry is much deeper and more complex. "Being with this person feels like home, and you feel peace in your heart," Bronstein says. "There's a feeling of being understood, seen and heard without the need to explain yourself. It's innate."
3 Signs of Chemistry in a Relationship
Bronstein, who hosts the radio show "Love Talk Live," says the following three types of chemistry make for a healthy long-term relationship.
1. Physical Attraction
Physical or sexual attraction is often what first comes to mind when people think about chemistry, and it's passion that stems from finding the other person attractive. Sexual chemistry is influenced in large part by pheromones, chemical signals present throughout the animal world that communicate between two members of a species. Bronstein says physical chemistry is, "either not there, or it's on fire. With the person you marry, you want it to be on fire."
2. Intellectual Chemistry
This type of chemistry comes down to communication. Two people who have mental chemistry should feel like peers. The conversations you have with this person should stimulate you and leave you energized. "You want to be intrigued by this person," Bronstein says.
3. Emotional Connection
When two people understand each other's wants and needs, they form a strong emotional connection. Bronstein describes this as a back-and-forth flow of energy and understanding.
The hallmark sign of an emotional connection is good communication. Openness, empathy and vulnerability are all necessary to build an emotional bond. "Building an intimate friendship is really important for chemistry," Bridbord says. And for a long-term relationship, that includes learning how to be close friends in addition to romantic partners.
While all the types of chemistry are important, many experts consider emotional chemistry the most significant part of an enduring romantic relationship. "Emotional connection is a key marker of good chemistry," Bridbord says.
Chemistry vs. Compatibility
There are distinct differences between chemistry and compatibility, but both are essential for a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, they don't always go hand in hand: Some people have great chemistry, but poor compatibility, and vice versa.
"Compatibility is what's on paper," Bronstein says. This can include more logical considerations like age, race, religion and academic achievement. However, those who seem compatible on paper may not always feel chemistry with one another.
Likewise, people who have great chemistry may not be compatible for a long-term relationship. Bridbord says some couples find out this is the case when they move in together. "If people are incompatible, it'll affect chemistry," she says.
Can Chemistry Change Over Time?
You might be wondering whether a lack of chemistry initially can mean a relationship is doomed.
Opinions differ on whether chemistry can make or break a relationship. "True chemistry does not increase over time," Bronstein says. "True love increases over time." According to her, chemistry is a reflection of individual personality traits that either work together or don't.
Bridbord disagrees. "I believe you can develop skills to hone chemistry together," she says. "I've seen some couples start as a slow burn and others as a big fire."
Regardless, initial feelings of limerence tend to fade in a long-term relationship, so it's important to keep cultivating chemistry by maintaining open lines of communication and respect. "In order to preserve and protect the chemistry, you need to do the emotional work together," Bridbord says.
One important thing to remember about chemistry is that looking inward is as important as looking outward. "Self-care is really important for cultivating chemistry," Bridbord says. "Your relationship with your partner can only be as strong as your relationship with yourself."