Limerence Is A Feeling Of Being “Madly In Love”
Most people have never even heard of the word “limerence.” But if someone has heard of it, they probably ignored it because it didn’t seem to make any sense. Limerence is a feeling of being madly in love with someone. It is a euphoric sensation that has no comparison.
Those in limerence generally feel that no one else possibly can understand what it feels like because there is nothing else close to it in our emotional experiences. They say things like, “I’ve never felt this way before,” or, “You cannot possibly comprehend the way I feel.” And the person making those statements believes them to be absolutely true. However, that usually is incorrect.
Among its many symptoms are obsessive thinking about that person, changing things about yourself to please that person, and perceiving anyone who stands between you and that person as an enemy.
But It Wasn’t Established As A Concept Until The 1970s
The world, “Limerence” was established back in the 1970s by Dr. Dorothy Tennov. Dr. Dorothy Tennov studied limerence in a qualitative study, where people identified themselves as being “madly in love.” She just did a lot of interviews and looked for commonalities among those who said that they were, “madly in love.” Because of this, she created this word, “limerence,” to identify people in that state- and then wrote a book about it.
Unfortunately, many people in the 1970s, psychologists, marriage counselors, and therapists did not accept her conclusions. Interestingly, even today, (as of February 2017) I’m occasionally invited to come speak for a group of counselors, therapists, or those who work with marriages in trouble- and I’ll teach them about limerence. And most of them, at least in the experiences that I’ve had, have never even heard of it! But once I explain limerence to them, the light bulbs go off, saying, “Oh, limerence explains this. And that explains that!”
Many Studies Show Limerence Affects The Brain
The research on limerence since the 1970s has been outstanding. Dr. Helen Fisher and her colleagues have studied it in a different way. You see, Dr. Helen Fisher is an anthropological biologist. In her studies, they put a person who identifies himself or herself as being “madly in love” through an FMRI. (In this, when referring to the person someone is “madly in love with,” science says, we call this person the “Limerent object.”)
You see, while an MRI takes a picture, an FMRI takes a series of pictures of the person’s brain. So in this study, Dr. Helen Fisher used FMRI for the participants. In this study, participants were shown photos of random people, just to get a baseline picture of their brain. But every so often, participants were shown a photo of the person that they’re madly in love with, and the FMRI captured their differing brain activity.
By doing this, the FMRI is able to distinguish the changes in the brain- what’s firing in the brain and what’s taking place. Through this, an FMRI can identify that limerence is definitely real. It actually does exist! From here, studies have gone on to examine the behavior of people who are in that state of limerence.
And Many Couples We Work With Have A Spouse In Limerence
When we talk about limerence at Marriage Helper, we’re talking about people who are “madly in love.” My own experience comes from reading lots of research, without a doubt, but it also comes from the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have been through workshops, seminars, and courses that I developed. A great number of those people have been through courses for marriages in crisis. For example, we do an intensive, three-day workshop for marriages that we call the Marriage Helper Turnaround Workshop.
I first began that Workshop back in 1999. And the years since, we found that two thirds, actually 67%, of the couples that come through that workshop have been affected by infidelity. Now, for some, it’s an affair that was just about sex, or a situation like the, “wrong place, wrong time,” sort of thing. But the vast majority of people we work with were in limerence affairs. What I mean is, they’re married to one person but they wound up being involved with another person. Sometimes, they’re referred to as “emotional affairs” because they do not always become sexual. Most of the time they do, but not always. If a person etners a limerent affair, or “relationship affair,” it’s not really about the sex. It’s about the connection between two people.
“Is Limerence Always A Bad Thing?”
Is limerence always bad? Not necessarily. You see, if you have two single people and they develop limerence for each other, it will lead them to become emotionally involved with each other to the point where they feel they’re “madly in love” and they want to marry each other. It can lead a couple to marriage without a doubt.
Maybe You Didn’t Experience Limerence. And That’s Okay.
But don’t worry, limerence doesn’t always happen. So if you’re a married person, don’t panic, limerence doesn’t always occur. The process of falling in love does not necessarily involve going through limerence, although for many people it does.
Limerence For Two Single People Can Be A Good Thing…
That being said, limerence for two single people can actually be a good thing. (As long as one person is not terribly bad for the other, because that one won’t see it while they’re in a state of limerence.)
Unless It Negatively Impacts Their Day To Day Life
But there is a downside to this. For example, if two people are madly in limerence with each other, I mean, really deep in love, their productivity seems to go away. For example, I had to dismiss an employee of mine, a young lady that worked for me, because she was deeply in limerence, and wasn’t working. She was single, he was single, they got engaged and they were going to get married. Because of this she didn’t do any work at all! She spent nearly all day on her computer going to various wedding sites and bridal sites. And when my team discovered that, we had to let her go. Her productivity just was not what we were paying for. But overall, for two single people, limerence is okay other than the fact that it’s going to stop productivity, or at least dramatically reduce it.
However, most often when we talk about limerence is when it’s a bad thing. That is, when someone is married to one person, but in limerence with another. And typically, this does not happen rapidly. Again, this differs from the kind of affairs I mentioned earlier, like when that’s all about sex. For example, you may have a husband who is going out and sleeping with prostitutes. That’s not about limerence. That’s something else altogether. But in a relationship affair, it is a limerence affair.
“What Makes A Person Vulnerable To Limerence?”
Often It’s Someone Who Didn’t Have Their Needs Met In A Previous Relationship
Now, let me stop here and say a couple of things about that. Sometimes people say, well, “What makes a person vulnerable to limerence?” I could say, “Well, the fact that they’re still breathing,” but there’s a little bit more to it than that. Typically it’s a person who, for whatever reason feels that he or she is missing something in a relationship- now stay with me because I’m not trying to blame the other spouse at all- I want you to hear me very carefully on this. Often, it comes out of childhood. It can come out of previous relationships.
You say, what do you mean by that? Well, let’s say a person went through childhood and felt unloved by their mom, dad, or both. Maybe there was a divorce, and all kinds of horrendous things happened after that. And so this person grew up with this intense need to feel loved- and needs it more than other people do in the sense of, “I need to know right now that I’m loved no matter what that situation.”
Either coming out of childhood, or from earlier relationships in life, this feeling of “missing something,” can put someone at a predisposition to the possibility of limerence. And typically, the person isn’t aware of it. What I mean by that is they don’t actually go through life thinking, “I’m going to keep going from one relationship to the next, until I find somebody who loves me magnificently.” As a matter of fact, the vast majority of the people we work with, never go through limerence with a lot of people. They go through it with one person and maybe two.
The first time may have been the limerence that led them to get married. But what I’m describing here would occur when a married person develops a relationship with someone else that, in time, develops into limerence. When I say, “with time,” it can happen relatively quickly, but usually he doesn’t. Not that it can’t, but not always.
Overall, this is a person who has some kind of a vulnerability, some kind of susceptibility to needing more affirmation, to needing more sensation of feeling loved. A need to feel that, “I’m not being ignored. That I really exist, that I have value, that I have substance.” Based on the couples we’ve worked with, these seem to be characteristics that make a person vulnerable to limerence.
Negative Experiences In Childhood Can Affect A Person
Now, interestingly, you, as the spouse may not even know that exists. Sometimes you will. Sometimes you won’t. For example, if your husband feels this tremendous pain still, when he talks about what happened when he was 12 years old… his dad left his mom for some other woman, and he felt that his dad didn’t love him. Or, that his dad loved her more than him, because that’s why he left.
Or maybe it’s a little girl thinking, “You know, I grew up with parents that fought all the time and I avoided them. I remember this one time, when I said this one thing and it, it started a fight between the two of them. And I began to think, ‘Am I the reason they hate each other? Am I a reason they create all this misery in our household?’”
It can be all kinds of situations. You understand? It can come out of childhood, or early relationships where a person thinks and feels, “I’m not sure if I’m really truly lovable as I am now.” Some days they feel they are, or perhaps no days they feel they are. But all in all, there’s a person with this great need.
But You Might Not Even Know A Person Has This Need
And as I said a minute ago, sometimes you will know, because they’ve told you about those situations, even though they may not understand the vulnerability that creates in them. And sometimes they don’t talk about it at all, because the pain is not quite visible. As terrible as it is to have a physical scar, if we see a physical scar, we know that there’s pain behind it. And a story.
Sometimes, saying the emotional mental, or spiritual scars is impossible because for whatever reason, the person either doesn’t recognize them himself or herself, because they don’t want to think about it. Or, they have it in their heart, but they keep it hidden because they think it somehow makes them unlovable even more.
You might be married to a person where you don’t even know that exists, and years can go by and you might be thinking, “Wow, my husband is very successful in his business and he’s got so much confidence that certainly couldn’t be applicable to him.” Or, “My wife is one of the greatest women, very involved at church, the PTA at school loves her, children are busy all the time, helping other people, this couldn’t possibly be her.” And I hope it isn’t, but sometimes great success at business, or being super involved, or whatever else, is actually covering up pain. It can often be, “This is what I’m doing so I can feel like that people need me. So I feel like I am worthy of respect, admiration; that I truly am lovable to these people.”
Vulnerabilities Do Not Mean Limerence Will Happen, But It’s Good To Be Aware Of The Environment That Could Produce it
You heard me say previously that, if you’re breathing you’re susceptible to limerence. And, in a sense that’s right. But definitely when these other things are there, it creates some vulnerability. Now here me out, vulnerability does necessarily mean limerence is going to happen.
We’re just talking about, “what kind of soil does limerence grow in.” We’re not saying it’s definitely going to grow in that soil. I hope you understand this. I’m not trying to scare you. I’m trying to help us understand ourselves and understand each other.
If you are in love with another person or your spouse is in love with another, please call us at (866) 903-0990 or fill out this form here to speak with someone about our Marriage Helper Workshop for troubled marriages. We can help you save your marriage even in cases of infidelity, loss of trust, anger, sexual problems, and other issues. You can save your marriage, EVEN IF your spouse is still in love with another person. There is hope.