understanding limerence

There is a word for the feeling of being “madly in love”, and we’ll use that word because it’s easier than saying, “feeling madly in love with somebody else”. The word that we use was actually coined in the 1970s by Dr. Dorothy Tennov. She was a PhD who studied people who felt that they were “madly in love.” And so, as part of her research, she was asking many questions to understand and find the commonalities between people in order to explain it. She came up with this word called Limerence.

Understanding Limerence

We know when a person is in limerence because of the research done by people like Dr. Helen Fisher, who actually put those who identified themselves as being “madly in love ,” into a functional MRI. A FMRI takes a series of pictures of the brain. In their research, they put these people into that FMRI, and then they show them photos of random people and took a picture of the brain. And every so often they show them a picture of the limerent object, the person that they’re madly in love with, and then they took a picture and compared the differences.

Now, I’m not going to discuss all of the science, because that is much too comprehensive to discuss in this article. However, understand that one thing that happens is an increase in dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical. It makes you feel like ecstasy is taking place inside of you. I understand that it’s even a chemical cousin to cocaine.

Another thing that happens at the same time is a decrease in serotonin. Now, there are many things that this chemical does in your brain, but among them is that it helps you to be calm. It also seems to have some inhibitor qualities, meaning that serotonin helps you to make decisions.

A person actually becomes, in a sense, addicted to the chemicals in his or her own brain. 

Love vs. Limerence?

Not everybody goes through Limerence. If you’re in a marriage, it may be that you fell in love when you got married, and neither one of you actually went through a limerence state. It’s not required in the process of falling in love. And if two people are single and are not bad for each other, and they go into a limerent state, they’ll wind up getting married to each other in all likelihood.

If they’re single, and there’s no other obstacles, then that’s okay. Limerence is the kind of love that is extremely intense. However, limerence was not designed by nature, and if you are a believer, not designed by God to be something that keeps people together.

Instead, it is a process that will actually bring people together. So if two people are single and have a right to each other, but one of them is really bad news for the other, then the limerence is going to lead into a long-term relationship in all likelihood is not going to be good.

How does it start?

Well, it rarely occurs instantaneously. I mean, it’s not a love at first sight kind of thing. Like I’m married to Alice and all of a sudden, I see Sally Sue and boom! Something happens in my head and I’m so attracted to Sally Sue that she becomes my world from that moment on. Can that happen? Sure, but that is extremely atypical.

Usually when limerence develops, it happens when two people start talking to each other and in the course of the conversations, they each begin to self-reveal. What I mean by that is over time, they gradually start exposing more of themselves, who they are in the sense of what emotions they feel, what dreams they have, and what fears they have. 

They’ll talk about those things and how they feel about them. If each feels safe and having that kind of sharing with the other, then they begin to take down the metaphorical wall that we have between us and other people. As they take down that wall, allowing the other person to see them as they really are, they feel that person accepts them as they really are.

As you really feel safe to do that and self-reveal more and more, and the other person understands, or at least appears to understand, then that reciprocity continues. You finally realize at some point that you have crossed a boundary, but now you don’t put any barriers up because it just feels too good. Like nobody else understands me like he does, or like she does now. Emotions develop and the chemicals in your brain are beginning to change.

Are there warning signs?

“Well, how can I tell if my spouse is in early limerence?” I mean, if our spouse is falling into limerence, what are the warning signs? Well, there are some, but they’re not always identifiable because sometimes they’re the same kind of signs that go with other things.

For example, maybe they become distracted. It’s like when they’re with you, they’re not there at all. It’s like their mind is somewhere else. Now, that can be a sign that a person is going into limerence with somebody else. However, it can also be a sign of depression. It can be a sign of being very concerned about what’s happening at work. So the fact that a person’s distracted can be a sign that he or she’s entering into limerence, but it does not necessarily prove that as a matter-of-fact.

They not only have little time for you, but little time for the kids as well. You may start seeing them do a lot more texting than they were doing before. You notice a little time missing, like they wound up coming home from work an hour later than they normally do. Maybe you begin to find receipts where they’ve gone for lunch, but they usually take a bag and eat lunch at their desk.

Another interesting potential sign is that they actually become much more attentive to you. Why? Well, it has to do with the kind of guilt that’s happening inside of them. The person also might begin to vacillate some and they’re very talkative one day, and then they don’t want to talk to you the next day at all.

What can you do?

If you believe that your spouse loves another, we want you to know that there is hope. This does not have to be the end of your marriage. Understanding limerence is the first step in saving your marriage and making it better than it’s ever been before. And we want to help. Get in contact with one of us here to see how we can help you. We have a 3-day workshop that is made to save marriages in crisis, and we believe it can help your situation, no matter what you’re going through. We also have the Save My Marriage Course for you to do by yourself if your spouse has left or has no interest in saving your relationship.

You can listen to the podcast recording of this topic below!

For more Marriage Helper content, visit our YouTube Channel here!