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Last updated: Wed. Apr. 02, 2014 - 08:45 am EDT

Marriage Done Right column: Understanding how emotional bonds are formed

Keep the dynamics in order to build a healthy relationship.

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“Relationship bonding dynamics” is not a phrase that jumps to mind when people think of dating, romance or falling in love. When you're dating someone you like, you want to have fun and enjoy how the other person makes you feel, not worry about “bonding dynamics.” John VanEpp, Ph.D., warns, however, that understanding the basics of how emotional bonds are formed makes it easier to create a healthy relationship without risking the heartache of failure.

“Relationship bonding dynamics” are things we do that make us feel closer to others. VanEpp explains that there are five bonding dynamics: knowledge, trust, reliance, commitment and touch.

Getting to know someone and liking what we see makes us want to spend more time together. The more positives we know about someone, the closer we feel to them. Learning good things about someone is part of the bonding process of growing friendships.

Trusting someone also makes us feel closer. Trust is a mental picture, an opinion, of how a person will behave and whether they'll do what they promise. If we like the individual, we assume they'll act in a trustworthy way. This is true even if we don't know them very well.

VanEpp explains that while trust is an opinion, reliance is an action. It's testing the dependability of the other person in our day-to-day life. Relying on someone also makes us feel closer to them – unless, of course, they prove to be unreliable.

Making the decision to commit to someone also helps create a bond. VanEpp says that in dating relationships “the heart of commitment is an abiding spirit of belonging to each other.” There is a sense of obligation, responsibility and dedication (“I have to”) bound together by cords of desire to do for the other person (“I want to”). The more you're committed to someone, the more you feel connected to them.

Touch may well be the strongest, but potentially the most deceptive, of the five bonding dynamics. Touch (hugs, cuddling, kissing) causes oxytocin and dopamine to be released into our bodies, both of which are “feel good” hormones. But oxytocin builds a sense of trust and “Psychology Today” tells us that dopamine creates “highs of infatuation, joy and self-confidence.” Touch is deceptive because we have these feelings of trust whether the person we're hugging is the most trustworthy person in the world or a total jerk(ette). Louann Brizendine, M.D., puts it bluntly: “If high levels of oxytocin and dopamine are circulating, your judgment is toast. They shut the skeptical mind down.” She adds, “Don't let a guy hug you unless you plan to trust him.”

In dating relationships it is essential to develop these five bonding dynamics in the right sequence. It would be foolish to trust someone you don't know, and it would be foolish to rely on someone you don't trust. Likewise it would be foolish to commit to someone you couldn't rely on or don't trust. And touch can create a false sense of trust, reliability and commitment that is based completely on an oxytocin and dopamine high, not a real knowledge of the person.

Starting into a new relationship can be both frightening and exhilarating. You want the relationship to grow, but without your expectations becoming unrealistic or being disappointed. VanEpp says: You want to follow your heart without losing your mind.

By keeping the five dynamics in the proper order (more knowledge than trust; more trust than reliance; more reliance than commitment; and more commitment than touch) you can develop a relationship that keeps the exhilaration and minimizes the risk of being hurt.

2014, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

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