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Is it Love or Limerence? Navigating Emotional Intensity in Relationships

Updated: Mar 6

By Luke Shillings, Relationship & Infidelity Coach

Welcome to a comprehensive exploration into the intriguing psychological phenomenon known as limerence. As an experienced infidelity coach, I've worked closely with numerous individuals grappling with the aftermath of extramarital affairs. Recently, one recurring theme in these scenarios is the intense state of romantic infatuation termed limerence.

First introduced by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the 1970s, limerence signifies a heightened state of emotional attachment often accompanied by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours towards a specific person, referred to as the limerent object.

Although this can spark feelings of profound euphoria and ecstasy, it may also lead to destructive consequences, particularly within committed relationships.

Limerence: Causes, Symptoms, and Potential Consequences

Limerence is not predictable; it can arise from a potent physical attraction or a deep emotional bond that evolves over time. Limerent individuals often lose control over their feelings, acting impulsively and erratically, contrary to their character. This intense experience could be linked to certain neurological and biochemical processes in the brain.

Studies suggest that individuals in limerence often have elevated levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and excitement. Here are a few common symptoms of limerence:

  • Obsessive thoughts about the limerent object.

  • Heightened emotional intensity.

  • Irrational behaviour.

  • Difficulty focusing on other aspects of life.

Given its overwhelming nature, limerence can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and betrayal for those experiencing it, causing emotional distress for their partners and potentially resulting in infidelity.

Romantic couple, engaged man, distracted woman lost in thought

How to Deal with a Limerent Spouse

For the betrayed spouse, dealing with a partner in the grip of limerence can feel like navigating a ship in a storm. The overwhelming emotions associated with limerence can leave you feeling disconnected, hurt, and confused. Remember though, that you are not the cause of your partner's limerence. It's an emotional state that they have unwittingly become ensnared in, not something that you provoked or could have prevented.

The pain, confusion, and isolation you are likely feeling can be eased by talking to a close friend. Someone who can provide a listening ear, words of comfort, and in some cases, practical advice. Seeking support is a sign of strength and can demonstrate to yourself that you are in control.

While not easy, is essential that you communicate your thoughts to your partner. This however should be handled carefully. You are likely to want to blame and judge your partner but avoiding this is crucial in opening a dialogue which can help you both move forward. Instead, focus on how you feel and how the situation impacts you.

Use "I" statements rather than "You" statements to reduce defensiveness—for example, "I feel hurt and confused when you..." rather than "You always..." Keep in mind, this may not result in an immediate change in your partner's behaviour, but it establishes a precedent for open, honest discussion.

Setting effective boundaries is important in all relationships. It is essential when rebuilding trust after betrayal. This is to protect your emotional well-being and the integrity of your relationship. The types of boundaries you want to include might be around the amount of interaction that is acceptable with the person your spouse is limerent for (known as the Limerent Object), or they might involve expectations for counselling, therapy or coaching. It's crucial that these boundaries are respected, and consequences should be established for when they are not. To learn more about boundaries listen to podcast Episode 13. Know Your Boundaries

Even during these challenging times, you are not responsible for your spouse's limerence, but you are responsible for your own well-being. By taking care of yourself, seeking support, communicating honestly, and establishing boundaries, you can start the journey towards healing and understanding.

Limerence vs. The Honeymoon Period

A young couple in the honeymoon period. Is it love or limerence? Man kissing woman's forehead.

Often compared to the early 'honeymoon' phase of a relationship, limerence is a temporary yet overpowering state of infatuation that can range from delightful to distressing. However, unlike the mutually affectionate honeymoon period, limerence involves an irrational obsession with another person, often leading to damaging outcomes.

Coping Strategies for Limerence

If you find yourself experiencing limerence, it's crucial to acknowledge your feelings, realizing that you're undergoing limerence, not love.

There are three main things you can work towards to release yourself from the grips of limerence.

Try to limit contact with the limerent object

This doesn't necessarily mean cutting all ties in one go. Start by actively reducing interactions and communications with the LO. If you work with them or they are part of a close circle of friends then create boundaries for yourself. If your primary partner is aware of the limerence then communicate these boundaries to help rebuild trust with them.

Focus on hobbies & activities that you enjoy

Consider this an intentional distraction. Your brain is convinced that the only way to be rewarded is through thoughts and interactions about and with the limerent object. Remind yourself that pleasure and 'dopamine hits' can be achieved in many other ways. These activities could be anything from reading, painting, hiking, cooking, playing a musical instrument, or writing poetry. The goal is to direct your energy towards constructive activities that can enhance your self-esteem and personal growth.

Strengthening your primary relationship

It comes as no surprise that having experienced limerence, your primary relationships will have been impacted. Now is the time to intentionally focus on rebuilding the connection, trust, and belief in your relationship. Try to rediscover the reasons why you fell in love with them in the first place. Spend quality time together, communicate openly and honestly, and seek to understand and address each other's needs.

Seeking Professional Help

Limerence is a temporary state, and with time, effort, and possibly professional help, you can overcome it, transitioning into healthier and more balanced relationships. If you or someone you know is struggling with limerence or the aftermath of an affair, please know that help is available. Feel free to reach out directly using the contact form below.

Remember, understanding and addressing the complexities of limerence can be the key to healing and moving forward, whether you choose to remain in your relationship or start something new.

Want to know more? Listen to the After the Affair podcast Episode 25 - The Power of Limerence

Those who make the most progress are those who take action. It starts with a conversation.

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