Fighting with Your Partner? Blame Hormones, According to Research


Gabrielle White

Hormones are the masters of our lives. Research has shown that when we bond with another person, changes to our physiology and our behavior start to take place. Researchers based in Israel designed an experiment  to better understand how hormones impact romantic relationships, and more specifically, what happens to your hormones during a fight. They compared levels of several key hormones in 50 people in relationships and 40 singles. Hormone levels were compared before and after the couples were asked to talk about something they’d had disagreements about before.

The key hormonal players here are oxytocin, testosterone, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). What the researchers found was that when one partner had high oxytocin, the other partner tended to be empathetic during conflict. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone, so that makes sense. It worked negatively with DHEAS (an important precursor to all the sex hormones): the more it was present, the more friction the fight took on. Testosterone, the male sex hormone, was a little different: the fight only became more hostile if both partners had elevated levels of it, and the fight de-escalated only if partners both had low testosterone. This kind of relationship was also true for cortisol, the so-called stress hormone: the fight would only intensify when both partners were high in cortisol and cool off only when both partners were low.

The bottom line: there’s a feedback loop that starts to happen when you’re with your partner as your biologies and behaviors adapt to one another, especially in the early stages of a relationship. Whether it’s an upward or downward spiral– well, that’s up to you. Here are some suggestions on how to dial down your stress hormones, which may help you fight less often (

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