love and limerence

So you’ve heard of this word called “limerence.” (It sounds like some disease, doesn’t it?) Maybe somebody told you, “You’re not in love. What you’re feeling is limerence.” And you’re wondering if there’s a difference between love and limerence.

I’m here to help. First, I’m going to explain the difference between love and limerence. Then I’ll show you how limerence is this unique sensation some people feel, but it’s a kind of love that won’t turn out as you expect.

Limerence Is A Type Of Love

But first, let’s talk about limerence. When I earned my Ph.D. degree, I studied many things concerning relationships and love. And in the social sciences, we identified various kinds of love. I’m not going to explain all of these, but I’ll mention a few. First, there’s a thing called empty love. Then, believe it or not, there’s a thing called passionate love. Finally, there’s fatuous love, and there’s something called companionate love. 

There’s also a kind of love called limerence. This term was coined back in the 1970s by Dr. Dorothy Tennov. She needed a phrase to explain this sensation of “feeling madly in love.” 

Now, the only kind of love we never try to describe is true love. Why? Because we can’t identify it. It’s so unique to each individual. In other words, it has too many definitions and too many factors, so we can’t identify it. 

But Limerence Is Different

Now let’s get back to this thing called limerence. It’s identifiable. It’s an “intense” sort of love. I’m not saying it’s not love- it is a kind of love. However, it’s different from some of the other types of love. And I’ll go through some of the reasons why it’s different below.

There’s A Longing For Reciprocal Love

One thing about this intense kind of love is that it contains a fierce longing for reciprocal love from the other person. In other words, “I have this intense emotion. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I believe that I will only feel fulfilled if you’re in my life, loving me just as much as I love you. And I crave it to the point that whenever I sense that you do not love me as much as love you, I go on this emotional roller coaster.”

Other actions in limerence include watching the person they’re in limerence with very carefully. For example, if the person they’re in limerence with shows any sign of loving them deeply, they’re in heaven. They “feel ecstasy” or think things like, “Nobody’s ever felt anything as wonderful as this.” However, they also become hyper-vigilant because of this deep longing.

There’s Hyper-vigilance

Those in limerence also notice any sign that indicates the other person may not love them. So, for example, even if the person they’re in limerence with is frowning about something else, the person in limerence may think, “Oh my goodness, what’s the matter?! Why don’t they want to connect with me right now?” 

Even if the person they’re in limerence with is upset about something else, they begin to think, “Somehow, I’m pushing them away.” Or, “Somehow they’re losing love for me,” and this leads to this tremendous, intense kind of jealousy- because they want them to be theirs, and theirs alone. 

There’s Fear, Physical Manifestations

A person in limerence will live in this fear that, “For some reason, somehow, someway, we’re not going to wind up together.” And this intense fear becomes the focus of what this is all about. Because of this, they continue on an emotional roller coaster from ecstasy and joy to misery. 

It could even have physical manifestations where they feel sick. For example, “When I feel like you’re rejecting me, I may feel faint. My heart may palpitate. I may start sweating like crazy.” 

And A “Halo Effect”

And during this process, they enter something called a “halo effect.” For example, “Everything about you is amazing. If somebody points out a flaw about you, I tell them they don’t understand.” Even if there is a flaw, with the halo effect, it looks like this: “Well, yeah, but that’s just a little thing. It’s not a big deal.” 

Limerence Prompts Changes In Lifestyle & Thought

Someone in limerence can also start changing themselves to make the other person happy. For example, changing the way they dress, changing their hair, or changing their habits. They might even change their religion, occupation, or location, thinking it will make the other person happier with them.

Another factor is the intense longing to be together forever. Here’s what that looks like, “I think about you all the time. As a matter of fact, up to 85% of my waking hours. And sometimes, it’s remembering good things we’ve done together. Just playing them over and over in my mind again.” 

Suppose there’s anything associated with the other person, like a little teddy bear or something. In that case, it becomes this fantastic optic in their life because it’s so associated with the person they’re in limerence with.

Then, they spend the rest of their time daydreaming about what they want to be. They have fantasies about living together, the things they’ll do together, etc. And it becomes pervasive. 

Love And Limerence: When Is Limerence Bad?

When It Blinds You To What’s Going On

To switch gears for a moment, if someone is single but starts dating someone who’s going to be bad for them, other people may try telling them, “Don’t be with him.” Or, “You shouldn’t be with her.” Or even, “Can’t you see how much he’s going to affect your life in negative ways?” Maybe they’ll say, “Don’t you understand how she’s dragging you down?” But in limerence, a person won’t believe anything their friends say. And in that sense, limerence is terrible because it blinds you to what’s going on.

When It Takes You From Your Committed Relationship

Another time limerence is harmful is if you are already in a committed relationship with someone else. For example, suppose you’re married and wind up in limerence with someone else. In that case, limerence is bad because it will pull you out of that committed relationship into this other relationship. And, in intense levels of limerence, sometimes people vilify the person they’re leaving. Here’s what that can look like, a person may pinpoint whatever is bad about their spouse and magnify it, saying things like, “Wow, I should’ve never been with this person to begin with. I’ve never loved them.” (And that’s called rewriting history.) They do all kinds of things at this point. They think that now, they can justify leaving their spouse for this new limerence. So even if the problem isn’t true, they believe it to be true. 

And, Here’s The Thing: Limerence Always Ends.

You might be thinking, “So what’s the big deal? People get divorced in America all the time. Why don’t you go with the person who will make you happy?”

Here’s why: because limerence always ends. Always.

It Ends Due To Biological Necessity

Now, I’m passionate about research on limerence and the social sciences. Helen Fisher, for example, is an anthropological biologist. She points out that limerence has to end. Why? It’s a biological necessity because limerence is so intense, so overpowering.

For example, let’s go back to daydreaming, thinking, all those kinds of things. The intense jealousy, the physical manifestations that occur like the palpitations I referred to earlier, all of these other kinds of things, or even just getting to the point where you don’t function very well in life. I mean, you really don’t. If people went into that limerent state and stayed in that state, the human race would have died out eons ago because productivity would drop so much. We wouldn’t grow the crops, we wouldn’t raise the animals, and we wouldn’t be eating. We wouldn’t be building houses and all the other things we need. And so, it’s from a biological necessity that it ends.

It Lasts Somewhere Between 3 to 48 Months

If you look at the research on limerence, it lasts somewhere between three months and 48 months. Sometimes, it might last a little longer on rare occasions, but those are extremely rare situations. It is not going to last a lifetime. Limerence does not last for years and years; it has a beginning and an end.

And that’s the bad thing. Sometimes people make decisions think, “I’m going to feel this amazing sensation for the rest of my life.”

And Once It Ends, You Begin To Count The Cost

But when limerence finally goes away, then they start counting the cost. So, for example, if you’re married and left your spouse for this other person, after a while, vilification of your spouse begins to go away. You’ll start remembering, “He or she was not nearly as bad as I thought when I was in the middle of all that intense, emotional state called limerence.”

You start to realize it cost you your relationship, such as the effect on your kids. I did this many years ago, in a state of limerence. I divorced my wife, left my children to be with the woman I was in limerence with- and it didn’t work out.

It very seldom works out. It’s extreme, only rare. If you leave a marriage for a person that you’re in limerence with, it’s because of that fact that limerence has a “shelf life.” It’s going to come to an end. Even if right now, you think it won’t ever end.

But many people in limerence think things like, “It’s not going to, mine’s going to last forever. You can’t convince me. I’m not going to feel like this, the rest of my life.” If that’s what you think, I probably can’t convince you of that, but I do know that it will end. I hope I didn’t offend you by making that statement. It’s just that we have worked with thousands and thousands of people that have been in that situation. And not one of them had limerence that lasted for years, and years, and years. It always ends.

Now back to my story. My wife and I eventually remarried, but even to this day, many years later, I still see the effects in the lives of my children of what happened in those three years. I was divorced from my wife (and therefore, divorced from my kids) in a state of limerence. And even though my wife and I put our marriage back together, it still affected my wife and my children later on.

Because of this, I ask those in limerence to consider and count the cost. Know that you’re making a decision based on what you feel. You think you’ll feel this way for the rest of your life–and you won’t. And when it finally goes away, and you start looking around, you’ll see what it cost in terms of relationships. You’ll see it was a pretty high price to pay. Or what it costs in terms of self-respect.

For example, things you believed or stood for before leaving your spouse. Then, when you decide to leave your spouse, you abandon those beliefs. But when it finally goes away, and you look back around, you may wonder, “How could I have hurt all the people that are hurt? Because that’s not who I was.”

So, what will you do?

So here’s the question I suggest you ask yourself, but also know that you make your own decisions for your life.

But ask yourself this question, “What will life be like if my limerent lover goes away?” You see, in my own life, I never expected my limerent lover to leave me, never. But she did. And in the thousands and thousands of couples we work with, we have seen it happen again and again.

Every day we work with people who are leaving marriages, because of this tremendous limerent love for another person. However, the kind of love that lasts for a lifetime is NOT limerence. We call it normative love, but that’s a whole other topic for another time.

So here’s the main point I want you to consider. Please don’t make lifelong decisions based on what you feel right now. Now, if you’re thinking, “Well, I’m not sure if I have limerence,” then contact us! Give our office a call, and we’ll help you think these things through. We won’t make your decisions for you- that’s for you to decide. But we will help you evaluate this and help you make your own decision that’s best for you- a decision that’s best for you not just today, but tomorrow and a hundred tomorrows after that.

For more specific help, learn what next steps to take for your specific situation with one of the Affair Toolkits:

Want to understand more about limerence? Check out this podcast on the “Madly In Love Syndrome”.

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