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What does it mean to have chemistry with someone? What are the signs of chemistry? What does chemistry do to feel like in a romantic relationship?
For the answers, we turn to a recent article by Reis et al., Published in the March issue of Perspectives on psychological sciencewhich proposes a new model of interpersonal chemistry.
What is chemistry?
Partner A and Partner B are said to have chemistry if they experience something special that neither of them experiences alone or in relationships with each other.
Chemistry applies not only to romantic relationships, but also to not romantic relationships: those between friends, team players, collaborating artists and others. Chemistry does not refer immediate attraction or magnetism. The chemistry, or the feeling of clicking or “meshing well together,” only emerges later repeated communication and reactivity between two people. Some aspects of chemistry are non-verbal and uniform unconscious (for example, natural mirroring of facial expressions or body language).
A model of interpersonal chemistry
The new interpersonal chemistry model advanced by Reis et al. discusses the concept of moments of connection—That is, interactions between two people in which their “goals, feelings, needs or desires … are expressed and are answered in an encouraging and supportive way.”
These interactions can be behavioral (eg, playing the other person’s favorite music), verbal (eg, talking about what you like), or nonverbal (eg, nodding, smiling).
Chemistry is more likely to be experienced if:
- The listener’s responses help the speaker feel a sense of security and trustand that responses convey appreciation, understanding and attention.
- There is mutualitythen the person who was listening initially has the opportunity to express their feelings and goals, especially feelings and goals that are similar or compatible with those of their partner.
It is only when this cycle of back and forth occurs repeatedly and “moments of connection” build up that a sense of chemistry can be felt.
Other factors that can increase chemistry include the characteristics of an individual which make him appear more sympathetic and responsive.
For example, the nicest individuals tend to be expressive, pleasant, friendly, confident, optimistic, charismatic, and attractive. And those considered responsive tend to be good listeners, friendly, and effective at taking perspective.
For an overview of the model, see Figure 1. On the left side are the behaviors or the “look” of chemistry, which is what we have been talking about so far. In particular, A’s expressive behavior (influenced by personality traits and goals) interacts with B’s reactivity, creating moments of connection. The same goes for B’s expressive behavior and A’s reactivity.
Source: Arash Emamzadeh (Reis et al., 2022)
The three components of chemistry
On the right side of Figure 1 is the perception chemistry, or how chemistry “looks”. Here you find three components of perceived chemistry: affective (i.e. emotional), behavioral, and cognitive. These are described below.
- Affectionate: refers to positive feelings, such as sympathy, attraction, warmth, care, admiration and being happy, say, for the success of a romantic partner. Even more important are the positive feelings shared (e.g. shared laughter).
- Behavioral: When there is chemistry, both sides believe that if they do Work together (rather than working alone), they will be more successful in achieving their goals. These goals can be social (in friendships), linked to lifestyle and sex (in romantic relationships) or linked to efficiency (in work relationships).
- Cognitive: chemistry is associated with perception to be similar or complementary in terms of goals, beliefs, values, personality, preferences … This perception can influence the development of a shared identity (eg “couple identity”, in romantic relationships).
The only part of the model we have yet to discuss is the projection path—People who project their thoughts and feelings onto their romantic partner (bottom right of Figure 1).
Here is an example. Suppose person A has a sexual encounter with a new partner, B. Person A can assume that B has found the experience just as rewarding as A. In other words, A is projecting her thoughts and feelings onto B.
Projection is more likely to play a role in cases where one person feels a spark but the other doesn’t.
Note, the projection is not a necessary component of chemistry (hence the dashed line in Figure 1).
Interpersonal chemistry involves two individuals who experience their interaction as the sum of more than the sum of their individual contributions to it. Chemistry plays a part in romantic attraction, sexual attraction, and the feeling of “clicking” with your date or spouse, or a new friend, colleague, and others.
The development of chemistry is fostered by repeated moments of connection, interactions in which partners, in turn, openly share (whether their feelings, needs or goals) and listen reactively.
Chemistry is especially important in romantic relationships, so here are some potential ways you and your romantic partner can build chemistry (or improve chemistry) in your relationship:
- When you listen, be reactive. It aims to create a sense of security and trust that makes intimacy possible. Depending on the situation, this can include listening carefully to fully understand your partner’s perspective, expressing emotional confirmation and affection, providing encouragement, etc.
- When you speak, Share your feelings, thoughts, needs, wants and dreams, especially the things you have in common (e.g., similar interests, attitudes, ambitions).
- Make sure there is a sense of mutuality, not just one person who always talks and the other who always listens. Even if you are a great listener, for example, there can be no chemistry if you don’t feel listened to and supported when you are speaking.