Affairs are painful. No matter if it’s a romantic affair, an emotional one or a simple one-night stand, all types of affairs bring with them pain and challenges. You know that something more than a simple friendship is evolving once you start to think all the time about that person, you compare them with your current partner, you find yourself sharing intimate details with them or simply spend more time together – all the while hiding it from your partner.
But are all affairs limerence?
As you might know already, limerence is defined by a state of being “madly in love” to the point of obsessiveness, which can influence someone’s feelings, behaviours and thoughts. It’s a strong feeling that can feel euphoric, yet usually, it is damaging as well. Limerence is driven in part by dopamine, a neurotransmitter known as the “feel-good” chemical. Dopamine is produced at a higher level than normal when you do something that your brain wants to reward you for. So, during your life, your brain has trained you to search out dopamine rewards. And when you’re in a limerent relationship, you get a lot of dopamine.
Dr. Helen Fisher and her team researched to understand what happens in the brain of people when they are in love. By using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagining, they scanned the brains of 10 women and 7 men who claimed that they were “madly” in love with their spouse. They have found out that when these people were shown an image of the person they loved, their brains lit up brightly in all the right places, indicating exceptionally high dopamine output. An experience very similar to limerence.
In the end, this New Relationship energy (NRE) experience is not bad itself. This can bring two people together and sometimes it may even lead to an enduring long term relationship or at least a high level of intimacy. In time, the relationship evolves from passion and attraction into one focused on other qualities, such as intimacy, friendship, loyalty, admiration etc. Nevertheless, the same way these feelings brought you closer to your partner, it can bring you closer to another lover as well, resulting in an affair.
Falling into limerence can be a result of different things. Indeed, limerence can affect some people more than others. For example, someone might have had poor past experiences and, as a result, has a constant fear of being abandoned or not loved. This person would constantly look out for affection, respect and affirmation; they might be perceived as “needy”. individuals more than others. Imagine that you start to develop a special relationship with a co-worker, friend or even acquaintance (such as a friend’s spouse). If you have a secure type of attachment style, you will be less likely to perceive the friendship with them as something more and you’ll be able to get back on track and focus on the relationship with your spouse. On the other side, if you are feeling emotional and physically neglected in your primary relationship, the relationship with this new person can make you feel deeply cared for, emotionally and physically. Being aware of this aspect is crucial because once you are starting spending time with someone you are drawn to in some ways, you can easily set your relationship for failure.
Once you fall in “love” with your LO (limerence object), you’ll feel as they mean the world to you. You’ll think of leaving your partner so you can finally be with your LO. But it’s important to remember that, statistically, it is very unlikely to remain with the new lover (your LO) for long. Why is this? Simply because limerence is temporary. On average, limerence lasts between 3 and 36 months, after which the levels of dopamine are decreasing and you get back to the normal state.
So how does a limerent affair look like?
- Infatuation stage – You have fluctuating feelings about your LO, you are second-guessing yourself and wondering if the feelings you are experiencing are genuine. You find yourself longing to see your LO all the time, even when they’re not physically close to you; you can’t think about anything else. You are to find reasons to spend more time with them and hide to your partner why you are not at home that often. At this moment, you’ve already crossed a line in your relationship.
- Crystallization stage – You experience a halo-effect towards your LO; you can’t see their negative traits at all. The experience feels like a roller coaster, you have obsessive thoughts about your LO and you experience euphoria and suffering. At this stage, in the intent to justify your actions, you make your spouse look like the villain in the story, focusing on having your feelings reciprocated by your LO.
- Deterioration stage – At the end, things are falling apart, the “honeymoon” period is over. No matter if it’s because the affair was discovered or because your feelings have vanished, at this point you start to see the “real” person that you were with and you move on.
When you experience limerence, you can’t experience it for more than one LO at a time. Limerence is very intense, it brings with it euphoria, anxiety, in some cases even mood swings or insomnia. Limerence can become unhealthy because the main purpose is to receive validation and confirmation from the LO; a person who has an affair based on Limerence would do anything to appear more appealing to their limerent object. In times of adversity, the limerent can become ever more drawn to the limerent object. Moreover, if both partners are experiencing limerence towards each other, the feelings of emotional dependence, envy, rejection anxiety and possessiveness are even more intensified.
In conclusion, not all affairs are based on limerence, yet the long-term affairs have limerence as a foundation. Remember that people leave what they have only when they believe they can have better. At the end, you can’t control the other persons’ actions, even if you do your best for the relationship. If someone decides to have an affair, limerence or not, they are 100% responsible for it. The only thing that you can do is to focus on yourself and your healing.
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