Brain and Body

Could “Love Hormone” Nasal Spray Salvage Your Broken Relationship?

December 11, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

A couple kiss with a sunset directly behind them.
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It’s being tested in use for couples therapy.

Imagine if all it took was a few squirts of a special nasal spray and you and your partner could calmly hash out all your differences? Researchers are looking into the potential of using oxytocin, commonly called the “love hormone” or the “hug hormone,” to help troubled couples patch up their relationships. Oxytocin got its nickname since the hormone is released when people cuddle or socially bond, which can also explain why it could have positive effects on broken relationships.

In a study at the University of Zurich, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 47 couples who were either married or living together chose a topic to discuss that they continuously disagreed upon. Then, they self-administered five puffs of either the oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo spray, and 45 minutes later, they were left alone in a room (and filmed) while they talked about the topic that usually stirred up conflict.

SEE ALSO: What's in a kiss? A lot more than you think

Interestingly, the oxytocin had opposite effects on the men and the women — the women experienced a drop in nervous system activity, while the men saw an increase. However, the social effects were positive for both genders. The women acted friendlier and the men also displayed increased positive behavior. In addition to facilitating positive communication, the researchers also saw lowered stress levels among those who were given the oxytocin.

"It is possible that the effect simply produced short-term changes in how couples interact with each other," Kavita Vedhara, professor of health psychology, told The Independent. "This might help to take the heat out of an argument. But whether it helps to resolve the issues that lead to the arguments is not clear."

Researchers at the University of Oxford have also studied oxytocin nasal spray to see its potential effects on relationships and health. The scientists reviewed a range of preliminary studies which show that oxytocin nasal spray could bring about pro-social outcomes, and their analysis argues that at least some romantic relationships could be enhanced by the sprays. However, they write, “Large-scale, carefully-controlled clinical trials are needed to determine which people (including which couples), under which specific conditions, will be most likely to benefit from oxytocin-based treatments.”

Basically, while oxytocin sprays have been shown to have positive effects on couples, like increased trust and positive communication, it doesn’t mean a nasal spray will simply solve all of the problems in a troubled relationship or marriage. If only it were that easy.  

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