Choosing Between Lover or Spouse
You Have a Decision to Make.
(0:00) It may be that somebody has told you that you’re really not in love with this other person; that it’s a fantasy, that it’s infatuation, or that it will go away. I’m assuming, of course, that you’re here because of the fact that you are trying to make a choice between whether to leave to be with your lover, or stay with your spouse. In other words, you’re married, but you’re thinking:
“Maybe I should end the marriage and go to be with this other person because I’ve never felt love like this.”
If you expect me to tell you that you’re not in love with that person, then you need to change your expectations. I won’t. I understand that you are in love with that other person, and will not deny that, but I will ask you to think about a couple of things as you plan your future.
Because, as you make this choice, you need to make the best choice concerning everyone (especially yourself).
I’m Dr. Joe Beam, with Marriage Helper. We love having people watch our videos. You see that subscribe button right down there [on YouTube]? If you’d like to keep up with our videos as they come out, click subscribe and you’ll always be notified. We talk about all kinds of things having to do with relationships, including this one: “I am married to one person, but I am in love with another person. I’m trying to decide whether to end my marriage and go be with this other person.”
Now understand, it is a “kind” of love. You see, in the social sciences we can identify various kinds of love. By the way, the one we never try to identify is true love. Why? Because that’s whatever a person is feeling at the moment. It’s too subjective or too different per individuals. Therefore, we can’t really quantify or identify it.
But, there are many kinds of love we can identify. If you’re madly in love with this other person, then we can look at certain characteristics and classify it in the social sciences as limerence. It’s a kind of love, without a doubt. It’s an intense kind of love. If you’d like to learn more about it, be sure to check out our other articles and videos. Look for the ones that talk about limerence.
I understand it. I’ve experienced it.
As a matter of fact, I’ve been in the very spot that you’re in now. I was married to one, and I was madly in love with another. I had to make a choice.
“Will I end this marriage, will I divorce my wife, so I can go be with this person who is the love of my life?” To me, it was the kind of thing that people today call “soulmates.”
Believe me, I understand the intensity of that decision. But the very fact that you’re reading this means that you haven’t really decided. Now, I’ll suggest a thing or two that you should seriously consider if you’re trying to make that decision. What I would call “essential considerations.”
First, Think About Who Your Decision Will Affect..
(2:48) One would be, “Who all will be affected by your decision?” Someone is going to be hurt by whatever decision you make. You say, “What do you mean?” Well, if you’re married to one who loves you and wants to be with you, then if you leave her or him for this other person, then you obviously are hurting the person you’ve been married to for a while.
Or if you decide, “No, I’m going to end my relationship with this person that I’m madly in love with and I’m going to go back and make my marriage work,” then you’re going to hurt that person.
And by the way, it’s highly likely that either decision is going to wind up hurting you.
So, it’s not a matter of, “How can I make a decision that hurts nobody?” Because at this point, that’s an impossibility.
I mean, I wish it were a possibility, but it’s not. Someone’s going to get hurt.
Next, The Possible Negative Effects on Children:
(3:35) Oh, and by the way, if you have children in this marriage, then you’re going to hurt them too. No matter how old they are, it’s going to cause them some kind of pain. Younger children have some kind of effect that comes from the parents’ divorce. Older kids have a little bit of a different kind of effect that comes from divorce.
If you’re thinking, “Well, how are children hurt?” There’s a plethora of research out there about that. I’m not saying it’ll doom your children, or it’ll destroy their lives forever. Don’t misunderstand this (because I will not ever lie to you)…
…but will there be an effect on them? And the answer is, in all likelihood, yes. As a matter of fact, it’s almost impossible for it to not hurt them.
For example, if you have school-age kids, we know that some of the ways it’s going to manifest itself will be in their grades, particularly in courses that involve logic, like science and mathematics. Why? Because their emotions will become a little bit raw. And it’s also much more likely that they’re going to get involved in some kind of behavioral problems. I’m not saying they necessarily will, but the odds of that happening increases.
Also, if you divorce and you have kids, and she or he winds up marrying somebody else, then those kids will have exposure to that other person. Now, you’ve got a whole new thing going on. You’ll consider how good a person the new person is; this new person that might be introduced into the picture if your spouse remarries.
Or even if he or she doesn’t remarry if they get into a really intense relationship. Even if they start dating a lot of different people..
Your kids get exposed to other relationships.
You have to be thinking, “Wow, I don’t know if that’s always going to be a good man in my kids’ lives, or a good woman in my kids’ lives. How are they going to be affected by that?”
Now, I’m not trying to beat you up. Remember, we always tell the truth no matter what. All I’m trying to say is, if you’re going to make this decision there are things I hope you’re considering. Because, if you’re a good person trying to make a decision that’s going to cause the least amount of damage as possible, you’re going to be thinking, “Who’s going to be affected, and how is it going to affect them?”
Now, be honest with yourself. Don’t listen to somebody who says, “Oh, kids are resilient, no big problem, they’ll get over it, that’s fine.”
(5:47) One guy who was leaving his wife for a woman that was 20 years older than him, interestingly, said: “She told me that my three year old and my one year old won’t have any negative effects if I leave those two little girls and come be with her, because years and years ago, she left her husband and it had no negative effects on her little girl at all.”
Now, I asked him this question: “Do you think, since she wants you to come be with her, divorce your wife to be with her…do you think that she might be a little bit slanted in her opinion about this?”
And, because of the fact that she doesn’t want to feel badly about whatever could have happened negatively in the life of her own daughter, “Do you think maybe she wants to see only the good and not the bad?” In other words, I’m not sure that that person is a good resource to help you make that decision. She’s got a biased interest in you making a decision in a particular way.
We even sometimes hear about counselors and therapists say, “Kids are resilient. No negative problems, everything’ll be fine, I’ll help him get through it.”
If they tell you that the kids are resilient, or that “there’s no long-term problems and that they’ll get over the short-term problems very quickly..” that counselor or therapist does not know what he or she is talking about.
Good counselors are awesome! If you’ve got a good counselor, use him or her to help your kids if you decide to make any decision that causes your kids pain. But, be very careful that they don’t say “kids will get over this fast.” Article after article after article in the scientific journals or social science journals all have information about all the various ways this negatively affects kids.
Now I’m not saying you can’t make your own decisions. Certainly, you can. But I’m saying, “Be honest with yourself.” Don’t believe the lie or tell yourself the lie, “No problem! The kids will be fine and there won’t be any negatives of this to them.” At least be honest and say, “If I make the decision to go this way rather than this way, then this is how it’s going to affect my kids.”
At least be honest with yourself, because you love your kids. And if you’re thinking, “But I don’t have kids, you just spent a ton of time talking about kids, that’s not applicable to me,” well, still think about the lover and the spouse. Because whichever decision you make is going to have a negative effect on them.
You say, “Well, how?”
(7:54) Well, your spouse will go through a mourning period because of the fact that you’re not going to be there if they want you to be there. That’s kind of a “death” in a sense. Also, it’s going cause your spouse to have a lot of self-questioning, like, “What’s wrong with me, what did I do wrong, why am I not equal to this person that you left me for?”
You know that he or she is going to go through those kinds of things no matter what you say and no matter what you do; they’re going to.
On the other hand, if you leave the lover and go back to your marriage, then the lover is going to go through those same kinds of things, wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why would he or she leave me?” and, “How in the world could you come and get involved with me and lead me to love you so dearly, and now back out of it?”
It’s a tough decision.
And as I’ve already said, either way..
…somebody’s going to get hurt.
Here’s How Limerence Happens:
(8:44) If you are deeply in love with this person, this thing that we in the social sciences call limerence, you probably didn’t go looking for it. What I mean is, there was a person that was in your life that you had some kind of “contact” with. Maybe he or she worked in the next office, or maybe you saw them at lunch because you always went to the same place. Maybe you went to the same church. Maybe this other couple was your best friends and that’s how you got involved with him or her because you always had access. Access is the key.
What happened in the beginning was, you found out you could talk to this person about things that you typically don’t talk to other people about.
They were very accepting. You probably didn’t have your first conversation that way, but because you liked each other, you enjoyed each other, or you found him or her attractive… somewhere along the line you started opening up and sharing your heart, your mind, your thoughts, your fears, your aspirations, and all those kinds of things.
Conversations with him or her began to become like the following:
“Nobody’s ever got me like you do. Nobody’s ever understood me like you understand me.”
Then he or she started opening up to you. That understanding got stronger, not just of him or her understanding you, but you understanding him or her, and then you formed an intense emotional connection.
For example, “I don’t think anybody else has ever felt this way, ever. I mean, why couldn’t my marriage be like this? Why have I never experienced a relationship like this? I don’t even know how to tell anybody else, because I don’t think anybody else has ever felt this way.” It’s almost like there are two souls merging into one body.
That connection is so immense, you don’t want to lose it, yet here you are reading about it. Which, probably means that you are also thinking, “But I’m married to this person over here and it would be wrong to leave him or her for my lover.”
So, you started hiding things.
You started going places where nobody would know where the two of you were. You talked about things beyond what you can or should talk about with anybody that you’re not married to. You probably held hands, which led to hugging, which led to kissing, and in all likelihood, you made love to each other and you have had a mixture of feelings about that.
You’ve been hiding and hiding, and you don’t want to hide anymore.
You don’t want to have to sneak off to some restaurant in another town. You don’t want to slink off to some hotel somewhere. You want it to be open. You want to just completely be with this person. That’s how it all began and now you’ve gotten to the present.
Here’s What Limerence Causes:
(11:09) If you are having an emotional struggle with making the decision, “Do I leave with my lover, or do I stay with my spouse?” You’ll probably be going through this thing that we in the social sciences call cognitive dissonance. That’s what happens when you do things against your beliefs and values.
It messes you up inside.
You feel bliss when you’re with this other person and you miss him or her when you’re not with your lover, but then on the other hand, you feel guilt about it as well. When you look at your children or your spouse…
or maybe you’re still going to church if you’re a church person, and you’re sitting there listening to the preacher or the pastor speak…
and you have these pangs of guilt and it’s kind of ripping you apart. You get into this emotional roller coaster.
Because your beliefs and values are one thing and what you’re doing is a different thing, then it’s kind of messed you up inside. Now, you’re actually contemplating altering your beliefs and values to make this okay. Thinking, “Maybe that’ll be a good thing, maybe that’s what I need to do.” And in this emotional roller coaster, because you are so intensely in love, this “limerence thing” with your lover, makes you think about her or him a lot.
You tend to daydream about the things you’ve done together and the things you’ve talked about. You tend to cherish the little items that you have shared with each other. You tend to cherish the places that you’ve been together. You tend to fantasize about the future, the “what it would be like with him or her,” so you feel all this ecstasy. Then, when you’re with him or her and you see signs of reciprocation, or you can see the love, or even you hear the “want” in the voice. Then, it seems like, “Ah, this is heaven. This is absolutely amazing.”
But…you’re also aware when he or she starts acting differently…
Sometimes you see that he or she’s “not having a good day” and sometimes they may appear to be pulling away from you a little bit. Or, sometimes they see something negative when they’ve been so warm and friendly and you’re watching for signs of rejection.
At any time you think he or she is not reciprocating with this amazing love you have, this “deep longing” you have to be with each other. It just makes you feel miserable.
As a matter of fact, you may even have had physical manifestations when you think about him or her pulling away from you..
…An upset stomach
Even if you don’t have the physical manifestations you could get the emotional ones such as: going from ecstasy to misery, (sometimes that fast) and then thinking to yourself, “Oh my goodness, what’ll happen if she goes away or he goes away?”
You’re struggling with this; you’re comparing.
You’re comparing him or her to your spouse. When you do, your spouse almost always loses because your spouse, not your lover who you have all these intense positive emotions about, is “keeping you” from being with your lover. Again, your spouse is “keeping you” from being with your lover.
So, when you make those comparisons, your spouse tends to lose. Even if you say good things about him or her, like, “Oh, but I love him, I love her. This is a good person, I can’t say anything bad about him or her.” You know in your mind, whenever you compare the two, who wins. That’s the present you’re living in and it’s got you miserable.
Consider Your Decisions Wisely
Now, you’ve got to do something. When it comes to your future, you know you can’t live like this.
You’re going to make some kind of decision. You’re going to decide either to end your marriage and try to go be with this person, OR you’re going to end this and try to make your marriage work.
(14:36) By the way, don’t try to do both those things at the same time. You say, “What?” Don’t try do to both those things at the same time. Don’t think, “Well, I need to decide about this and fix my marriage or decide about my marriage at the same time.”
They’re actually TWO different decisions:
“What are you going to do about this?” That’s decision number one.
Then, “Am I going to try to make my marriage work?” That’s decision number two.
Count the cost. What I mean is,
- What do you have to gain if you leave with your lover?
- What do you have to gain if you stay with your spouse?
- What do you have to lose if you leave with your lover?
- What will you have to lose if you stay with your spouse?
- What would I gain? “Oh, I’m going to get to be with this person that I feel these amazing emotions for. That’s worth all the loss on the other side.”
Here’s the bad news. I’ve been there, I know how this feels. Not only have I, thousands of people have. I know, you don’t believe that. Right now, you think, “Nobody’s ever felt this way.” But yes, thousands upon thousands upon thousands have. I’ve worked with a ton of them myself. In addition to my own story, I’ve heard their stories and I can tell you this:
What you feel right now, this intense positive emotion you’re feeling at the moment toward your lover, is not going to stay that way forever.
I know you think it will; in fact I know you believe it will.
You’re looking at me thinking, “You’re an idiot. You have no idea what you’re talking about.” That is exactly what I would have said when I was in the situation you’re in right now. But eventually it’s going to change.
Right now, you make decisions thinking, “This is the way I’m going to feel. He/she’s going to feel for the rest of our lives. Therefore it’s worth all I’m going to give up for it,” and I’m telling you, guaranteeing you, it’s going to change. It cannot stay that intense. Nothing in life can stay that intense. It’s going to end. And so, think about this: “What am I going to gain, what am I going to lose?
The 10-10-10 Rule to Follow When Choosing Between Lover Or Spouse
(16:20) Suppose you decide to get in that relationship with your lover…what you realize someday is that it begins to fade/begins to go away. Do you know that in all likelihood, even if you divorce your spouse for this person, the likelihood that you’ll actually wind up marrying this person is extremely low?
And if you do marry the person, the likelihood of your divorcing is exceptionally high, extremely high. Most of these couples just don’t make it long-term. Part of the reason has to do with counting the losses. She, he, they…are going to count the losses. You, you are going to count the losses.
You will look over at what you gave up, you look at the person who loved you, you look at your children and what you put them through, and you will look at what it’s cost you in terms of friendships, or even what it’s cost you in terms of your own morality.
So, think of it this way: 10-10-10, if you can be honest with yourself. That is:
Whichever decision I make, how am I going to feel about it in 10 MINUTES, 10 MONTHS, and 10 YEARS?
Now, if you decide to stay in your marriage and end the relationship with this person over here, you’re going to grieve. You are. You’re going to mourn. You’re going to go through a lot of misery because of the fact that you’re giving up someone who’s very important to you.
But think 10-10-10, not just how it’s going to feel right now…even in 10 days. But 10 months ahead, how is it going to feel? It’s going to change some. And in 10 years, am I going to look back and be very happy that that was the decision I made for my life? If you can, think that way.
One last thing for you to consider. Consider who YOU are. Because, if you change your beliefs and values so you can go do something in contradiction to your beliefs and values, you will become a different person.
You can look at yourself in the mirror some day (or maybe you already have) and think, “Where’s the ‘me’ I used to be? Where’s the good guy, the good gal; where’s the person I liked being? Why have I become somebody different?” When you change your beliefs and values, you become a different person.
Just so you know, there are a lot more things to think about. Go to our website, MarriageHelper.com where we have a lot of free resources. Or call us to talk to one of our client representatives and we can help lead you to good resources for you to use as you make this decision.
Again, think carefully about your future before you make the decision. Get some people to help you think about all sides of it. It’s your decision.
Make some comments below [on YouTube], ask your questions below [on YouTube]. We’d love to answer those things. We’re here, and we would like to help.
…MORE on Choosing Between Lover or Spouse
“I’ve never loved anyone the way I love her. I never knew I could feel like this. So deep. Fulfilling. Amazing. I can tell her anything; my dreams, my fears, my strengths, my flaws.”
John spoke slowly but fervently as he explained his relationship with Sheila . It was not his idea to visit with me; he had come because another friend asked him to do so.
“I trust her with my secrets. She understands me more than anyone. And I know everything about her. She’s told me everything.” He looked away, apparently visualizing Sheila. “She’s even more beautiful on the inside than she is on the outside. I’d die for her and she would do the same for me. I don’t know why God didn’t send her into my life until now, but He did. We were meant to be together.”
A few days before our conversation, John’s pastor had confronted him about Sheila. John admitted his feelings for her and his intention to divorce his wife and marry her. The pastor lectured John that what he felt was not love, but an unhealthy lust that would destroy him and his family.
“So, do you believe I love Sheila, or do you, too, think that I’m deluded?” he asked.
“I believe you love her,” I replied.
He seemed surprised, though pleasantly so. He figured I would take the same approach as his pastor and others who defined love in a way that denied the authenticity of his intense emotions. I had no doubt that John deeply loved Sheila with a kind of love that involves a concentration of feelings most types of love cannot touch.
“Love exists in many forms, John. For example, your pastor knows that in his Bible the kind of love called agape differs from liking or friendship love. What you feel is a measurable and identifiable kind of love. It’s an intense love we call limerence. So, yes, I believe you.”
He visibly relaxed.
I gently told him that before he made himself too comfortable, he needed to hear the rest of what I wished to share. He had been talking for nearly a half-hour; now it was my turn.
“John, the thing to consider isn’t whether you love Sheila. The most important thing to think about is what you do next and how that will affect the rest of your life. Not just your life, but Sheila’s as well. Also the lives of your wife, children, parents, friends, and even your church. I don’t doubt you love her, John, but I urge you to think about where that love leads.”
Before leading John through considering his future, I guided him through his recent past, starting before he and Sheila connected emotionally. I did not ask him to tell me about his past. Instead, I told it to him, though I had not heard it from anyone. It was not an effort to impress him, but to demonstrate to him how deeply I understood him.
“I’ll just hit the high points without a lot of explanation, John. Correct me if I get something wrong.
“Though you found Sheila attractive, you initially had no intention of anything other than friendship. At first, your conversations were nothing special, just friends talking about mostly inconsequential matters. However, as you enjoyed being around each other, you became more open and transparent. Gradually, you evolved to discussing personal matters, trusting each other, and liking the attention and validation. Somewhere along the line, one of you began to slip in words of affection, cautiously at first, and then openly. Well before either of you openly professed love for the other, you both knew what the other felt.
“As your relationship deepened, you began to hide the amount of time you spent together, the increasing numbers calls or texts, and the escalating emotions you felt for each other. Neither of you considered the possibility that you violated boundaries as friends, co-workers, or Christians, though both of you were still actively involved in your churches. Nor did either of you entertain the idea that by your deepening desire to be with each other you violated your marriage vows to Melinda. You each believed strongly that both of you were good people who had no wish to do anything wrong.
“With time, talking led to handholding. That eventually led to warm, clinging embraces. Next came kissing which finally progressed to full physical expression of your emotions.
“Guilt followed your first lingering kiss. It reached its peak when you became sexually intimate. Before you left each other after that first time, you wept and prayed together, asking God to forgive you and help you not sin again.
“Soon the prayers ceased.
“Now neither you nor Sheila feels a need to ask God to forgive. Instead, you thank Him for bringing you together.”
He stared at me for several minutes before speaking.
“Yes, that’s pretty much the way our love developed. So what does that have to do with anything?” John asked warily.
“I walked you through that very brief history for two reasons, John. First, it’s significant that I told your story to you, not you to me. I probably missed something here or there, but I got the main parts right, didn’t I? Why is that important? Because it means you aren’t unique. What you have isn’t magic or extraordinary. I’ve heard the story so many times in my work with marriages in trouble – sometimes from the guy’s perspective, sometimes the gal’s – that I know it well.
“Second, John, because I know how you got to where you are, you need to realize that I can tell you where you’re headed. How? Same reason. I’ve heard the stories.
Hundreds of them. Sure, I might miss something here or there because every situation is a little different, but I’ll get most of it right.”
He was not enthusiastic about hearing my predictions, but realized it would be irrational to refuse.
“John, if you divorce Melinda and marry Sheila, the odds are better than 8 out of 10 that you and Sheila will divorce. Even if you stay together, which is not likely, you will have difficulties in that marriage because of the way it started. I know that you believe I’m wrong. Even when I tell you I’ve seen the same thing repeatedly over the last twenty years, you think that you will be the exception. Everybody thinks that. Nobody is. Allow me to explain what you have before I predict where you will wind up.
“John, you love Sheila so intensely that you think no one else could possibly understand what you feel. It’s so deep that you don’t know how to find words to describe those feelings adequately. Because your emotions exist at a level beyond anything you’ve previously experienced, you believe them to be extraordinary – nearly magical. You cherish those feelings so dearly that you want to do whatever it takes to maintain them.
“I understand that. Really. And I don’t blame you for not wanting to let them go. However, no matter what you do, what you feel now isn’t going to last. We know from science and from our own experience with thousands of people thatlasts somewhere between three months to three years and then it begins to fade away.
How long have you felt this way about Sheila, John?”
John angrily replied, “About nine months. But you’re wrong, Joe. It won’t go away. This is real. Very real. It’s not some infatuation that flashes and dies. I’m not drugged. I’m in love.”
I reassured him, “I have no doubt it’s real, John. However, though you don’t want to hear it, you are intoxicated. Your brain makes the chemicals driving these amazing emotions. I’ve felt it. I know what it’s like. The reason it has to fade, John, is that the emotional state you’re in now would destroy your life and livelihood if it lasted a lifetime. Admit it; you spend a lot of time thinking about Sheila. So much that some things in your life don’t get the attention they need.”
He began to debate, “No. Not a thing. You’re wrong about that.”
“John, think about your children. Honestly, do you spend as much time with them as you used to? You still love them, but if you are honest with yourself, you know that you will miss events with them if Sheila wants you with her. Same with your parents and your close friends. Spend much time with any of them lately, John?
“And what about work? You’re not a guy who does some rote work for 8 hours a day and goes home. Your job requires you to think, be creative, and plan. Isn’t it true that some days when you feel euphoric about Sheila, you find yourself amazingly productive for a few hours, but gradually lose the productivity because you become so focused on thinking about her? And what about the days you get very little done because you find yourself obsessing about whether she’s happy with you? Isn’t it true that if she isn’t having a good day, you worry and find yourself ineffective at everything you do? Yeah, John, I’ve been there. I know all about that.
“Long-term relationships aren’t based on euphoria. They especially cannot ride that emotional rollercoaster you find yourself on because you are so finely attuned to Sheila’s emotions that you react to nearly everything.
“As I mentioned, John, the love you feel is called limerence. That is an identifiable and measurable kind of love. It may be more intense than any other form of love. Dorothy Tennov, PhD, named it limerence in 1977 to describe what people feel when they are madly in love with another person. Helen Fisher, PhD, and her associates now do most of the research concerning it. We know from their research that powerful brain chemicals are associated with limerence and, as a result, a person in limerence behaves differently than he did before, and differently than he will after limerence fades. And it will fade, John. It always does. It does not last.
“I’ll run through some characteristics of people in limerence, John. I’ll describe them as if they represent what you feel about Sheila. Stop me whenever I list one that isn’t correct.
“You see no flaws or faults in Sheila. In fact, you cherish and adore letters, words, and events associated with her. Those things are special to you.
“Your life has become crazy both physically and emotionally. For example, you experience some of these – euphoria, energy surges, insomnia, lost appetite, abrupt mood swings, or rapid heartbeat. You may even occasionally feel anxiety and panic.
“When your pastor told you that you were not in love with Sheila and should end things with her, you felt even stronger emotions for her and wanted to go to her immediately.
“You’ve exhibited signs of emotional dependency on your relationship with Sheila, like being possessive, becoming jealous, fearing rejection from her, and feeling anxiety when separated from her.
“You crave emotional union with her. You feel a sense of understanding for her and connection to the point that you’re willing to sacrifice for Sheila. If it means ending your marriage, losing your job, or even giving up your religion, you’ll do what it takes to please her and to be with her.
“You’ve already reordered some of your priorities for her. For example, to please her have you changed the way you dress, your mannerisms, or maybe even some of your habits?
“Beyond that, you’ve changed some of your beliefs so that you can be with her. Did you once believe that adultery was a violation of the Ten Commandments, but now believe that God sent you the woman with whom you commit adultery? You used to go to church, but now you’re looking for a different kind of church – one that you never would have considered before – a church that will accept you and Sheila though you left your wife for her.
“You love making love to Sheila, but sex isn’t the core of your relationship, and you want the emotional union much more deeply that you desire the sexual union with her.
“I didn’t list everything, John, but that’s enough to get the picture. You are in limerence with Sheila, John, aren’t you?”
He tried to look smug, but could not pull it off. Instead, he demonstrated a mixture of anger, frustration, and anxiety. “Okay, mostly you described what I have with Sheila, but not exactly. Besides, when a person is in love, he feels those things. You described true love, nothing more, and I already told you that I truly love Sheila.”
“John, those things describe a particular type of love called limerence. Limerence isn’t always a bad thing. When two single people fall into limerence, nobody worries about them. But one reason we don’t worry, John, is because we know that their limerence is going to grow to a different kind of love. No one expects them to be in that euphoric romantic stage for the rest of their lives. If we did, we would worry, because we know that life cannot be lived that way for long. It is too exclusive, too selfish, and too unproductive for them as individuals, a couple, and for society as a whole. We expect them to develop a more mature and broader level of love that is not as intense but is much more fulfilling; a love based on giving as well as taking, a love that is much more secure and less driven by moods, a love that is stable rather than reactive.
“If you think that is what you will develop with Sheila and that will fulfill you as limerence subsides, you’re wrong for several reasons.
“The first is that the best person with whom to have the stable, long-lived kind of love is Melinda, your wife, the mother of your children.
“The second is that when the limerence subsides you will have lost your wife, your children, many of your friends, your church, and probably your own view of yourself. You’re trading all of that for the intense emotions that you feel today. How do you think you’re going to feel when that intense emotion no longer exists as it does now? We know from our work with thousands of marriages in crisis that you have a great likelihood of resenting Sheila. The object of your love probably will become the object of your resentment. While you’re in limerence, you won’t see her flaws. When limerence fades and you comprehend the costs of all you sacrificed for her, it is extremely likely that your mind will exacerbate her flaws. You’ll wonder how you were so blinded and you’ll resent what your relationship with her cost you. We see it every day. Nearly every person we work with who leaves his or her spouse for someone they love with limerence, and then marries that person, winds up divorced eventually.
“The third is how your relationship with your children will change. Same with dear friends, and people you love that you went to church with, but let’s concentrate on the kids. Sheila may love them, but she’ll never be their mother, even if Melinda were to die prematurely. Most kids resent the person their Dad left their Mom for, or that Mom left Dad for. They may treat her kindly, callously, or indifferently, based on how angry they are with you and whether or not they want to keep emotional connection with you. It’s terribly unfair to them, and ignoring reality, to expect them to love and cherish the person they’ll view as the destroyer of their family. If you delude yourself into thinking that they’ll get over it, or that they’re old enough to understand, your delusion won’t last long. Your kids will rupture that fantasy.
“Add to that the emotional logistics concerning who spends holidays and vacations where, what roles people play and who sits in what pew when your kids’ weddings occur, and how people interact when someone passes on.
“Finally, consider God’s view of all this. I bring that up because you mentioned your pastor and your past church involvement. The Bible you once believed says that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:10), and that adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). If you are honest with yourself, you know that you quit believing those because they contradict what you want to have with Sheila. However, as you abandon those beliefs for her, what changes inside of you? You see, part of your identity is your belief and value system. When you change that, you change you. That’s the principle behind conversion. When a person becomes a Christian, she becomes a different person because she changed her beliefs and values. It works in reverse as well, John. As you change your beliefs and values, you become a different person. Right now, in the depth of limerence, you probably don’t see it. If you do, you may not care. Believe me; you will see it in years to come if you pursue this course. If then you don’t care, it will be because of who you have become. Think you want to be that person, John?
“Your future will be determined by whether you choose to continue with the divorce and pursue Sheila, or to end things with Sheila and work out your marriage. I know that you feel that your marriage is hopeless, but that’s part of being in limerence. I’m fairly sure, John, that if I had met you before you developed relationship with Sheila, you might not have categorized your marriage as great, but you would not have listed any major problems, either. However, I’m just as sure that you now have a list of frustrations and disappointments with Melinda and your marriage. We call it rewriting history. That means that your mind actually focuses on any bad thing that happened with Melinda and makes it worse. Because of the intense emotions for Sheila, your own conscience had to justify your leaving Melinda. If you want to tell me all the terrible things about her, I’ll listen, but what you feel and believe about her now is tainted. Your memory is real, but it isn’t valid. Whether you meant to or not, you’ve changed things in your memory to make what you want to do acceptable.
“In short, John, unlike your pastor, I believe you love Sheila. I also know where this love leads. If you were both single, I’d congratulate you. But you are married. Divorcing your wife to be with Sheila creates negative consequences for you, Sheila, Melinda, your children, parents, friends, and the kingdom of God.
“You may justify it in your mind and proceed. It may even seem good for a while. Nevertheless, the limerence will fade. When it does, you will come face-to-face with the consequences for you and all those others I mentioned.
“We will help you then or we can help you now. If you let us help you now, there will be far fewer awful consequences. Do the right thing, John, and good things happen. They will not be as exhilarating as limerence, but they are much deeper and more fulfilling.”
His eyes indicated our conversation was over; he barricaded his mind and heart from me. I had anticipated that and had come on as strongly as I did because I feared I would have no second chance. Therefore, I had tried to plant as many seeds as possible.
That conversation occurred a few years ago.
Though hardly anyone believed it could happen, John decided to end his relationship with Sheila and try to restore his marriage. About a year after he made his decision, he explained it to me, “I hated you for saying it, but you were right. I’d become someone else because I had let go of what and who I am. After a lot of soul-searching, I realized I wanted to be me again. I loved Sheila, but finally accepted that the future I desired for us could never equal the fantasy I’d built in my mind. I wanted to be with her – there are days when I miss her intensely – but deep inside I wanted peace with myself, with my God, and with my children. At first, I didn’t really care about making peace or reconnecting with Melinda, but with time that worked out as well. I love her…guess in a way I always did. She’s a good woman and we have a good life. Not only did she forgive me, she stood up for me to her family, our friends, and our church when she took me back.
“It feels good to know I did what was right. Always will.”
John and Melinda worked on healing their marriage. They allowed me to help them understand how he had fallen into limerence, how to heal their marriage, and how to learn to love each again. Actually, they learned how to love each other more than they ever had before.
It was not easy for John or Melinda. His deep emotions for Sheila did not end immediately. They had taken time to develop and, therefore, they took time to reside. During the process, John went through a grief process similar to those experienced by people who lose loved ones to death. However, he worked through it.
Admirably, Melinda understood and coped with amazing strength. She forgave John. She forgave Sheila, though for obvious reasons she maintained no contact with her. Neither did John, though when he ended his relationship with Sheila, he worried about her future. Sheila reacted badly initially, but eventually she, too, healed her heart and moved on. She fell in love with a good man. Wisely, she told him her experience and they sought counsel before they married. They, too, have a good marriage.
The story of John, Melinda, and Sheila is neither unique nor rare. Sometimes the husband falls into limerence with another. Other times the wife. While the dynamics change slightly, the same principles apply. With the right help, their marriage can be saved and they can love each other more deeply than before.
We see it every day and we can help your marriage just as we have thousands of others – no matter what you feel right now.
If your marriage is in danger of separation or divorce, call us at (866) 903-0990 to speak with someone or use the form below to request more information about our Marriage Helper Workshop for troubled marriages. Our success rate over the last decade is saving 75% of marriages that come to our workshop, even when adultery, porn, anger, or other things have deeply hurt the relationship! (If you’re thinking your spouse would never come, contact us by phone or the form below and we’ll tell you what others who felt the same way did to get their spouses there.) We will keep everything you tell us completely confidential. Our motivation is to help you determine if this workshop is right for your particular situation. We also offer solutions for couples who can’t attend the workshop.