Understanding Limerence (the “Madly In Love” syndrome)

What is going on in the head/heart of someone “madly in love” with another?

Watch the important video above about “limerence,” all the way through before reading the rest of this article.

Why do they do the things they do? Say the things they say? Make the decisions they make?

What if a person is married to one and falls “madly in love” with another?

How does that happen? Is it the fault of the spouse they wish to leave?

Is there hope to save the marriage? Will s/he divorce the one, marry the other, and live happily ever after?

That’s that the person believes will happen. However, it’s not what’s going to happen.

They love they believe that no one can understand because no one could ever have felt this way before…is quite common. And, unfortunately for the person in it, it only SEEMS that it will last forever. It won’t. It always ends.

There’s a name for it. It’s called limerence and the word was coined by Dorothy Tennov, PhD, in the 1970s.

At that time it received little acceptance by counselors. Even today, we find that many marriage counselors and therapists either do not know about it or know very little about it.

Current research on it has been done by Helen Fisher, PhD, and her colleagues. (Tennov has passed on.)

Their findings are fascinating.

So are ours. We have worked with myriads of married people who are in limerence with someone other than their spouses.

We’ve heard the stories…we’ve witnessed the actions and decisions…and we’ve seen the consequences.

Not good consequences, though the person leaving his / her spouse for another with whom s/he is “madly in love” always fully anticipates that life with the lover will be amazing, fulfilling, and last a lifetime.

Psychological Dynamics of Limerence

When someone falls “madly in love” with another person while already married, several psychological factors might be at work:

Idealization: The limerent object (LO) is often idealized with qualities that may or may not exist. This distortion stems from a deep psychological need to fulfill unmet desires and dreams, which the spouse might not be perceived to satisfy.

Dissatisfaction and Escape: Often, underlying dissatisfaction with current life circumstances, including the marriage, can drive a person towards limerence. It serves as an escape from reality—a fantasy world that offers excitement, novelty, and the hope of happiness.

Neurochemical Factors: Research by Helen Fisher and others suggests that brain chemistry plays a significant role in limerence. The release of dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters creates a drug-like euphoria that reinforces the limerent behavior, making it addictive and compelling.

Attachment Issues: Limerence might also reflect deeper attachment issues. For instance, individuals with insecure or anxious attachment styles may be more prone to experiencing limerence, as they seek the security and validation they feel their current relationship lacks.

Repercussions of Limerence in Marriage

The impact of limerence on a marriage can be profound and multi-faceted:

Emotional Distance and Conflict: As one partner becomes increasingly absorbed with their LO, emotional distance between the married couple grows.

This often leads to conflict, mistrust, and resentment from the non-limerent spouse.

Disruption of Family Stability: If children are involved, the family dynamic can be significantly affected. Children may sense the emotional upheaval and suffer from the resulting instability.

Financial and Social Consequences: Decisions made in the throes of limerence may have financial repercussions, especially if they lead to divorce. Social relationships might also suffer, as mutual friends and family members grapple with the implications of the limerent affair.

Is There Hope for the Marriage?

Despite the intense grip of limerence, there is hope for recovering and even strengthening the marriage:

Professional Intervention: Engaging with therapists or counselors who understand limerence can be crucial. They can help the limerent spouse unpack their feelings and understand the difference between limerent obsession and genuine love.

Rebuilding the Relationship: Focusing on the marriage by spending quality time together, communicating openly about each partner’s needs and desires, and possibly attending couples therapy can gradually rebuild the relationship.

Patience and Understanding: The non-limerent spouse will need a considerable amount of patience and empathy. Understanding that limerence is temporary and treatable can provide the strength needed to support the relationship during this turbulent time.

Will They Leave or Stay?

The decision to leave or stay in the marriage is complex and influenced by many factors, including the depth of the limerent feelings, the quality of the marriage before limerence, and external obligations like children or financial resources.

While some may choose to leave, believing in the potential of a new life with the LO, many find that the limerent feelings eventually wane and the reality does not match their fantasy.

Life After Limerence

For those who navigate through limerence without leaving their spouse, life can gradually return to a new normal—one where they may find a renewed appreciation for their partner and the stability of their life together. The experience of limerence can serve as a catalyst for personal growth and a deeper understanding of one’s emotional needs and desires.

For others, the end of limerence might come with the harsh reality that their actions have irreversibly altered their life and relationships.

The dream of a perfect life with the LO rarely materializes as envisioned, leading to regrets and a need to rebuild one’s life anew, whether alone or with their original spouse.

In conclusion, while limerence can be a disruptive and often destructive force in a marriage, with the right support and commitment, it is possible to overcome these intense feelings.

The journey involves understanding the psychological roots of limerence, confronting the realities of one’s actions, and, ideally, fostering a compassionate and supportive environment that promotes healing and growth for all involved.

Nearly all end within 3 years…even the ones that believe it will last forever. In the video above, Coach Lee discusses limerence in detail.

ALSO SEE: What is limerence?

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