When people talk about falling madly in love, they’re describing what we in the social sciences call limerence. Limerence is an involuntary state of mind that provides an overwhelming and obsessive need to have the person you’re attracted to reciprocate your feelings. There are three distinct stages of limerence. So how can you tell which stage your spouse is currently occupying? We’ll be going through them all, but we’re starting with stage one of limerence on this episode of Relationship Radio.


The First Stage Of Limerence Can Start With A Friendship

To understand limerence and its impact on a marriage, we need to discuss how one might fall into stage one. We can describe stage one as infatuation. It often can develop from something as simple as a good friendship. Physical attraction might not be the first thing that begins this relationship, as it could be any one of the PIES; physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual.

Whichever PIES area initiates the feeling, it entices you to spend more time and be closer to this person. You will begin to make excuses to spend more time with them, whether at work, at home, or in other ways, because they make you feel good about yourself. In this early part of stage one, both parties probably still feel like they have a very close friendship. Neither will consider that they might be leaning towards something inappropriate.


Physical Versus Emotional Attachment

Physical attraction is most important when people are looking for a short-term relationship. However, limerence, most times, doesn’t start with physical attraction. So how does it get there?

Long-term relationships rely mostly on emotional attachments to remain healthy. Limerent relationships can start with that emotional attachment, building quickly and causing you to feel very safe and comfortable with your limerent object. For example, you might feel this person understands you better than your spouse because they listen better, compliment you more, or make you laugh all the time. Remember the times you share with this person can be a coping mechanism to bring you happiness. While this might not be bad initially, it’s when those thoughts turn to obsessing on not just the times you’ve had together but fantasizing about what might happen in the future with them.

One of the keys to limerence is a strong emotional longing for reciprocity with this person. In other words, “I want them to care about me as deeply as I care about them.” Unfortunately, this longing can quickly lead to your limerent object supplanting your spouse for your emotional and, eventually, physical needs.


Do They Feel The Same About Me?

It’s feasible that in this early stage of limerence, you’re not even sure if the other person has the same feelings as you do. Stage one is often not a constant feeling. It can often vary between feelings of being on a high and then dropping down to thinking you should back away because you’re unsure of the situation.

Your limerent object has three options because they’re probably starting to see what’s happening now. The first option is to see the emotional bond-forming and ignore it. Secondly, they might begin to pull away because they don’t reciprocate the same feelings as you. But the third option is that they’re feeling the same way, and it brings you closer to moving into stage two of limerence, which is called crystallization.

When you know those feelings are reciprocated, the relationship can move forward. In some instances, this will stay just an emotional affair. Or, the emotional connection will lead to a sexual affair while you’re still somewhere in the first stage. You might both feel remorse and promise not to fall into this temptation again, but remembering how good this person makes you feel will almost always lead to a continued relationship.


Comparing Apples To Oranges

During stage one of limerence, you begin to weigh the good and bad of what you’re feeling. For example, you might have been in a perfectly happy marriage up until this point. But the emotional connection you have formed with your limerent object has changed how your mind thinks. So you start trying to justify these new feelings during those ups and downswings.

You begin to highlight every minor flaw your spouse might have during this stage. You begin to amplify the bad while transferring your good memories to this new person you’ve fallen for now. This magnification drives you farther from your spouse and gives you reasons to crave your limerent objects’ attention.


What Are The Signs To Look For With Limerence?

There is no clear-cut formula that can flawlessly tell you that your spouse might be in limerence with someone or even cheating, but there are a few signs.

The first is missing time. If your spouse says they’ll be home at one time but consistently has things come up that keep them out later, this could be a sign. Excuses like working late, going out to drink with friends, or even no explanation when they come home late can start to form a pattern of deceit.

The second thing could be missing money. Your spouse could be spending extra cash to treat their new limerent object to meals, jewelry, or even hotel stays if the relationship has already turned sexual. Be sure to keep a close eye on your finances if you suspect something might be happening.

Other signs to watch for might include changes in attitude, both positively and negatively, changes in sexual desires, and your spouse accusing you of things when you try to have discussions. None of these on their own should concern you, but noticing a pattern involving a combination of changes might be cause for alarm.


Can You Describe Limerence To Your Spouse?

Limerence is an involuntary state of mind, so can you explain to your spouse what they’re feeling to bring them back to you? Unfortunately, the answer is almost always no. If you try to explain it to your spouse, and they are in limerence, it’s likely to work against you. 

It’s also possible that your spouse will become angry if you try to explain limerence to them. They might turn this against you and blame their behavior on how bad of a spouse or person you are. Defending yourself in this situation can cause a larger argument that will take away from the point you’re trying to discuss.

Should you snoop and try to find things on their phone? Sneaking around can be a sure-fire way to end up divorced. Planting GPS devices on cars, hiring private detectives, and browsing through your spouse’s phone isn’t something you want to do if you’re going to save your marriage. Having a direct conversation about the subject will more likely have the desire you’re looking for if you do it correctly.


How Do I Approach My Spouse About Limerence?

The first rule is not to attack or accuse them. It’s human nature to defend ourselves when we feel attacked. Accusing your spouse of cheating will result in them shutting down and creating a worse situation.

Secondly, don’t rush the conversation. Be sure you’ve allowed enough time to talk things through in an environment that is as stress-free as possible. If your spouse feels trapped, as when they feel accused, they’ll fight back and deny everything.

Lastly, stay calm. The moment that you lose your temper, the conversation is over. Tell your spouse that you’re just trying to understand their feelings and why they’re doing the things that hurt you. Asking them if they’ve cheated only gives them a chance to deny it. Instead, start by telling them how you found out about their indiscretions, and then let them explain why. Being calm and understanding in such a stressful situation is hard, but it will benefit you in the long run.


What Happens After I Know The Truth?

Knowing there is a problem is only the first step. At some point, you’re going to need help from a professional who knows how to handle these situations. That doesn’t always mean a marriage counselor. Good marriage counselors are worth their weight in gold. But some marriage counselors aren’t trying to save the marriage; they’re trying to help everybody be happy. So if you’re going to seek a professional, you should find someone who is pro-marriage and who will help do everything they can to help save your marriage rather than your happiness.

You need to know that you’re not alone during this time. There is still hope that your marriage can be saved and be stronger than ever before. At Marriage Helper, we dedicate our efforts and resources to helping couples stay married and saving their relationships. As a result, three out of four couples that come through our intensive workshops wind up saving their marriages and staying happy with each other. We teach, share, and help people understand, and it’s incredible when people grasp how things can change even if they are “madly in love” with somebody else.

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