Oxytocin may help Couples Communicate Better

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Spouse communication

Swiss researchers have begun exploring the benefits of oxytocin for helping couples communicate better.

Oxytocin has been touted as beneficial for reducing anxiety, producing feelings of well-being, empathy, bonding, and sexual arousal. Now researchers are studying the effect of oxytocin for improving stressful interactions between couples.

Krystal, M.D., the editor of Biological Psychiatry explains, “We are just beginning to understand the powerful effects of hormones and chemicals released by the body in the context of important social interactions." The researchers are interested in exploring pharmacological application of oxytocin to facilitate positive communication, and decrease stress between couples who have trouble communicating about finances or how to raise the kids.

The scientists observed the effects of oxytocin given to couples, finding that it reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reduced negative behavior in observations of couple interaction in the laboratory. The scientists compared oxytocin to placebo, determining that oxytocin had a positive effect for helping couples communicate.


Study author Beate Ditzen, Ph.D., says, "[Oxytocin] might help us to pronounce the effects of a standard treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, by possibly making the benefits of social interaction more accessible to the individual. But it probably will not replace these standard treatments."

Repeated use of oxytocin has not been studied in humans, and the authors do not recommend that oxytocin be used as a “social enhancer”.

Oxytocin studies, published July 1999 in the journal Psychiatry concluded that oxytocin “may be mediating emotional experiences in close relationships." The study, lead by Rebecca Turner, PhD, from University of California showed that oxytocin is a powerful hormone that promotes attachment between humans. Oxytocin is naturally released in the body in response to happiness, and is best known for promoting bonding between mothers and infants following birth.

Positive experiences release oxytocin in the body, promoting well-being. The new study shows that oxytocin may be useful for helping couples communicate effectively, when used in conjunction with standard couples therapy.

Biological Psychiatry, Volume 65, Issue 9 (May 1, 2009), published by Elsevier.