Change Your Scent

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We have a tip for couples who are struggling or on the verge of breaking up but want to stick it out and find a way to make it work. This is a rather simple way to bring physiological processes that are largely outside of your control under your control, and to get a clean slate in a sense that you might not have considered. Change your customary smell. If you have a few perfumes you always use, or a favorite deodorant, or shampoo and soap, find something new you like that smells distinctly different. Urge your partner to do the same.

Smell and memory are closely linked. Out of all of our senses smell most powerfully  transports us back to another time and place. We feel like we are almost inhabiting the memory that the smell evokes, including our emotional state at that time. Everyone has experienced it so I don’t really have to belabor the point. This is because the olfactory bulb is found in the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that deals with memory and emotion.

When the right smell triggers your brain the reaction is usually instantaneous. Behavioral psychology shows us how smells can elicit such powerful emotions, and it’s due to the associations we make between a specific smell and an experience or a person. That’s why some love the smell of gasoline and others hate it. For one it evokes memories of lazy days spent out at a lake cabin during the summer. For another it evokes long days of hard labor on an oil platform. Both will only have to walk by a gas station to instantly access these disparate memories. One will feel pleasant emotions like love and happiness, or maybe nostalgia. The other will feel unpleasant emotions like anxiety, anger, or resignation.

If you are trying to get a fresh start in your relationship you are fighting an uphill battle by wearing a familiar scent because it will likely trigger powerful associations that tell your partner you guys are struggling or in a bad place. These associations with smell are often largely unconscious but they still affect our moods.

The best move is to be open and honest with your partner. Explain how sense of smell and memory work and that you are committed to giving your relationship the best chance possible to start moving forward again. This is also an active, visible way for you to demonstrate that you are willing to do whatever it takes instead of the usual way of just stating your commitment. Create new behavioral associations for yourself and your partner where your smells elicit pleasant memories like feelings of comfort and happiness.

We are speaking in the context of romantic relationships but of course you can apply what we have talked about to any close relationship that has soured for one reason or another. There is no doubt that you will have to change many facets of your relationship to make it healthy, and the way you relate to each other ultimately determines the behavioral associations that your brain makes for you. Changing your smell is a way to take care of a sphere that you cannot consciously influence.