There is nothing like it in the world. Your heart beats faster at the mere thought of your lover. Her face floats up in front of your eyes at the most inopportune moments, distracting and tantalizing you with the anticipation of being with her again.
The smallest thing reminds you of her—the dandelions popping up in the crack in the sidewalk remind you of that long walk in the park, the coffee shop reminds of the first time you saw her, even the lady walking her dog reminds you of lazing together in her bedroom, laughing at the neighbor’s dog barking through the walls. And these beautiful moments replay in your mind when you should be doing other things, carrying with them the ecstasy of catching her smiling at you, of hoping, praying, believing she felt the same. You’ll do almost anything to be with her.
She’s nearly perfect in every way.
Even her little faults and foibles are disarmingly attractive. Meetings and obligations move and shift in order to make time to be alone together. You cannot recall feeling this intensely in love with anyone in your entire life. Your days and nights are filled with this blissful agony—being with her whenever you can and longing for her whenever you can’t. All other loves fade into the shadows in the light of your lover.
Falling Apart at the Seams
When was the last time she called? You’ve been the one initiating all the phone calls lately, when did that start? And you realize the texts are becoming less frequent as well. She doesn’t answer every phone call at the first ring any more. You wonder, is that distraction in her voice? The demands of her job seem to have become more burdensome, interfering with your time together when they never used to.
Your rendezvous dwindle from three a week to two to one…now you are not even meeting weekly any more. You wonder: what happened? Is she fed up? Is she moving on? And then, she strikes an earth shattering blow—she’s met someone. The thing about this new guy is that, well, he’s free. He’s free to have a relationship with her because, unlike you, he is not married. She’d hoped that you would finally let go of your marriage and make the commitment to her, but you never did, you just couldn’t bring yourself to do it.
You’d come home from an afternoon with your lover, determined that this was the day you would tell your wife that it was over. You’d explain, as kindly as possible that you were madly in love with someone else, that you’d never really loved her and that this is what was best for you both. Then you’d see your wife there in the kitchen, struggling to get dinner on the table after a long day with the kids, hair bedraggled, her tattered sweats dusted with telltale signs of meal preparation.
The look of relief in her eyes that you’d finally made it home to help take over with the little ones softened your resolve. Not because you wanted to be with her, but because it was just so hard to hurt her. In fact, you knew if you left her, she’d fall to pieces. Her depression had already robbed her of all her prettiness. You can’t remember the last time she put on make-up and shaved her legs, let alone wear a dress. She didn’t even try any more. Some days, you knew, she didn’t get out of bed except to run the kids to school, until late in the afternoon. Your sex life? Virtually non-existent. You had stopped even initiating because she either said “no” or was simply unresponsive on the rare occasion she said “yes.” She didn’t want sex with you and you found that soon enough, that was just fine, because you really didn’t want it with her either.
Then there were the kids. When it came down to it, you found it hard to make the break, imaging their mother’s hysteria as you left, knowing their little faces would reveal all the fear and confusion in the madness of taking that first step out the door. You feared they wouldn’t understand that it wasn’t their fault and you just couldn’t leave them when you knew your wife might not be able to stand up to the responsibilities of taking care of them without you.
A Rock and a Hard Place
So there you were, stuck between the lover that filled your dreams and sent your heart skipping wildly in your chest and the wife and kids that depended on you. You couldn’t let either one go and now it seems the decision is being made for you. You feel as though your heart is being ripped from your chest and you don’t know what to do.
Or perhaps you are past that stage in life and your kids are all grown and gone and you’re left living in a passionless marriage and you can see no reason to stay. The kids are raised, right? What harm could it do them now?
It Feels So Real
First, friend, you must understand that what you feel for your lover has a name. It’s called limerence. Limerence is an intense desire to be with someone all the time, to think about them, to see them in the light of your desire. You can see little to no fault in the object of your limerence. This person intrudes into your thoughts to the point that you feel a total lack of control over your thinking.
You can’t stop yourself.
You find yourself distracted by the person while at work and with other people, especially when you’re with your spouse. When you are experiencing, it tends to shine a spotlight on all that is wrong with your current relationship. It tricks you into believing that the object of your limerence is perfect and will make you happy and that the feelings you are currently experiencing will last forever. It also tricks you into thinking you never loved your spouse in the first place.
That is because limerence is more like a drug than it is like real love. It involves stressing, obsessing and craving. Like an addiction it can make you willing to obtain the object of your limerence at any cost. It is an intense rush of feelings. In fact, it can feel so intense that nothing can compare to it while you’re experiencing it. But all highs fade. We all know that. They burn out. If they didn’t, we’d burn out and drop dead. Similarly, limerence fades. When you are in the midst of limerence, you have a really difficult time seeing or understanding this. Here are some signs you might be experiencing limerence*:
• Idealization of the person’s positive and negative characteristics, i.e., they seem perfect.
• Uncontrollable thoughts of the other person. They invade your thoughts all the time, even when you know they shouldn’t.
• Searching, almost obsessively, for signs that the other person returns your feelings.
• A sense of euphoria at any sign, real or perceived, that the other person reciprocates your feelings.
• Endlessly analyzing every word and gesture to determine their possible meaning.
• A feeling of nervousness or becoming flushed and excitable whenever you are near the other person.
• A feeling that everything reminds you of the other person.
• A tendency to replay every encounter with the person over and over again in your mind.
• A sense that the adversity to your relationship, i.e. being married already, only strengthens its intensity.
• Finding yourself willing to rearrange nearly anything in your schedule for a chance to be with that person, even if the obligation is important.
Let us compare limerence to love. A good working definition of love is: “Healthy Real Love is a powerful, vital, natural process of highly valuing, desiring for, often acting for, and taking pleasure in the well-being of the loved.”** Breaking down this definition into its most essential parts we see that love desires the well-being of the loved, acts to accomplish the well-being of the loved and takes pleasure in the well-being of the loved. Please notice that limerence takes a stance of the self’s desires at the center while healthy love takes the stance of the loved one’s well-being at the center. They are not the same thing.
Statistically limerence will last from about 12-36 months. Then it will be gone. All too often it leaves devastation in its wake. You find yourself realizing that your lover isn’t as perfect as you thought and neither is your former spouse as awful as you thought. Before you take any drastic steps, I encourage you to stop and think.
If you really and truly love your affair partner, then rather than holding on to her, you should be able to feel peace that she will be able to move on and find real happiness with another. If that thought makes you sick to your stomach, then be assured, what you feel is, in fact, limerence. And that limerence is lying to you. It is enticing you away from the family that you made a commitment to. And obviously, if you are reading this, you feel the gravity and importance of that commitment. You clearly love your children because you didn’t walk out that door yet. That is a good thing. A very good thing. The fact that these things are leading you to read this article and research what you should do is great. I am so glad you are here, friend.
What Do I Do Now?
Listen, literally every human on earth comes with his or her own set of problems and baggage. When limerence fades I promise—really promise—you will find that all is not what it seemed while you were consumed in its fog. Before you do anything drastic, let your affair partner go. Complete your relationship with your spouse first. By letting the affair partner go and focusing on your marriage, you are not saying there are no problems, you are saying you are willing to really truly follow through on that commitment. You are saying you are willing to see your spouse once again for herself and not in comparison to the object of your limerence, to whom she could never compare. You are saying that before you walk out the door you are willing to give it one more chance to see if love can be rekindled with your spouse.
Not only that, you are saying “yes” to the chance that your kids can grow up in an intact home. Recent studies from clinical psychologists reveal that divorce takes a real toll on children. The impacts of divorce are long-lasting, in fact they last a lifetime. Young children do not have the cognitive ability to process the higher concepts involved in divorce. Older children and even young adult children of divorce must process the break-up into their developing identities. Divorce seems like it will relieve a certain set of problems, but it creates an entirely new set of them. Perhaps you’ll feel better, perhaps you won’t, but either way a divorce will foist upon the entire family a set of logistical and emotional struggles. Your divorce isn’t just about you relieving yourself of some problems, it’s about the entire family (including future grandchildren) and they all have to live with the consequences.
Look at this from a long-term stance. When you look back across the years of your life from the other side of them, don’t you want to say you gave it your best shot? Don’t you want to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you did everything you could? You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. By giving your marriage one last drastic shot at success you stand to gain that real, active, flourishing kind of love that brings you a deep satisfaction that settles in and actually can last a lifetime. The crazy mind-blowing, heart-palpitating rush limerence brings can never last. Until you arrive at the deep kind of love you won’t understand how sadly and wanly that rush pales in comparison.
Maybe, Just Maybe, There’s Hope
If you’ve decided to give it one more try and your spouse does not yet know about your affair I encourage you to seek a bit of guidance and wise counsel from someone proven. Then tell your spouse the truth. Lastly, get to one of our marriage workshops. Even if both of you are just about to walk out that door do this one last thing before you shut it behind you and lock it forever. You know you can’t feel good about walking away until you’ve seen it all the way through. So give it one more try before you throw in the towel.
75% of marriages on the brink of divorce where one or even both partners are just about ready to walk away, leave Marriage Helper’s weekend completely turned around and intact. These marriages are still intact and more sound than ever seven years later. By coming to a marriage weekend, you aren’t guaranteeing anything except that you will open your mind and heart to what you learn. If there’s even the most minuscule that you can save your marriage and rekindle or even fall in love with your spouse for the first time, isn’t it worth that last shot? Aren’t those sweet little faces that call you “daddy” (or even “mommy”-this happens to women too) worth it?
*Cookerly, Richard J. “False Forms of Love: Limerence and Its Alluring Lies.” What is Love Dr. Cookerly. What is Love Dr. Cookerly, n.p., n.d. 16 February 2015
**Cookerly, Richard J. “The Definition of Love.” What is Love Dr. Cookerly. What is Love Dr. Cookerly, n.p., n.d. 16 February 2015
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