You are happy with your spouse? You may never have heated arguments; you are kind and supportive with each and you have a satisfying sex life. You truly love them and you want them to be happy. Yet, here you are, feeling attracted and obsessed about someone you know almost nothing about. You find yourself constantly thinking about them, imagining a possible interaction and hoping that soon they’ll notice you the way you notice them. You feel nervous around them, but you desire to be with them no matter what.
Limerence is often mistaken for love. From books to movies, love is often portraited as the obsessive state in which someone is constantly having compulsive thoughts and feelings about another person while having a deep and emotional dependence. Unfortunately, this is not love. This phenomenon is called Limerence. As described by the psychologist Dorothy Tennon in her book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, limerence is “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and emotional dependence on another person”.
Limerence is also more than a crush or infatuation and it doesn’t have anything to do with sex. While crushes are short-lived and not very intense, limerence can last for a longer period of times and deeply affect your daily life. If you experience limerence, you’ll have emotional highs and lows, a great euphoria once you interact with the Limerent Object (LO), but also despair when you feel rejected by them.
Here you have a short story from someone who may have limerence:
“I accidentally stumbled across this term today trying to understand my willingness to leave a great marriage, kids and business for a woman who fulfils all I am missing in life. I don’t know if it’s just “limerence” or that I was just unhappy in my marriage and found what I was missing. I’m struggling to let either one go- the love of my life or the woman I once called that (my wonderful wife).”
Someone who experiences limerence will become obsessed with the LO, to the point of making life-changing decisions, such as ending a marriage. Limerence is not something that you can plan and there is no direct cause on what causes limerence, or, at least, not yet. Still, there are two things to take into account on what causes limerence:
Your childhood and previous experiences
Childhood and previous experiences have a huge influence on how someone relates to others and form relationships with the other sex. If, during your childhood, your needs for validation, love and connections were hardly met by your caregivers (or even one of them), you can develop a fear of abandonment and intimacy. These fears influence your self-esteem and can make you mistaken intensity for intimacy towards someone that is superficially fulfilling your needs. Also, limerence doesn’t usually develop in normal and happy relationships, so if you or your partner are experiencing it, it is important to try to understand what exactly might be missing in your current relationship dynamic. When we experience limerence we don’t magically love someone else; the Limerent Object is usually a mirror of our own insecurities and difficulties in forming a healthy relationship, with our partner and with ourselves. If you choose to leave a relationship to be with your LO, you will keep having the emotional baggage and will still need to work on your self-growth at some point anyhow.
Our brain during limerence
As with love, limerence is also a result of biochemical processes in the brain. But what happens more exactly in the brain when someone experiences limerence? Well, the pituitary gland releases norepinephrine, dopamine, phenylethylamine, estragon and testosterone. All of these together produce that feeling of euphoria that we commonly call love. But, once the attachment hormones (vasopressin and oxytocin) kick in, their levels start to normalizes.
These changes in the brain can drive people to extreme behaviours in the pursuit of the limerent object (LO). It is the same process that drug addicts go through; the changes in the brain cause drug addicts to feel an intense and all-consuming draw to get and use the drugs, to the point where they would have extremely unreasonable behaviours to fulfil their needs.
Can anyone have limerence?
Everyone can, but not everyone does. Limerence typically lasts from 6 to 24 months, sometimes even more! Limerence, is often taken as the first stages of strong and powerful “love”, but it can transform into a long-lasting, loving and healthy relationship. Nevertheless, limerence is usually one-sided and it can easily end up in pain and disappointment. As we mentioned previously, limerence often happens when there are already some issues in the primary relationship. Moreover and, most importantly, limerence is deeply influenced by our early life attachment wounds and any relationship trauma you have since childhood. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the dynamics of your family, to understand better how these have shaped your behaviours in current relationships.
Is limerence a disease?
Limerence is not a disease, but it is a combination of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and addiction for another person. What is important to remember is that limerence is an obsessive and unhealthy state, that can create a constant state of anxiety to someone that can affect their daily life. This anxiety comes from different things: the need of having your LO’s feeling reciprocated, separation anxiety and even fear of loss. While there is no exact “cure” for it, mental health counselling and medications can help someone reduce their stress levels and facilitate their recovery.
In conclusion, feeling limerence is influenced by different factors, from biochemical processes in the brain, our previous experiences and the status of the current relationship. Limerence can be part of the beginning of any relationship and, in time it can lead to a healthy and long-lasting relationship. However, if limerence does occur while you are in a committed long-term relationship/marriage, it is important to understand its causes and what effects and implications it might have on your well-being and the relationship itself.
Remember that limerence is not about your current partner or your Limerent Object. Limerence is about you. The LO is just a catalyst and limerence can be easily transferred to another Limerent Object. There is no “cure” to limerence, yet there are plenty of ways that you can learn how to deal with it. Understanding yourself during limerence can be a great opportunity for self-discovery and self-growth and can help you build more conscious relationships, with yourself and others. Also, because of the neurochemicals that are released during limerence, it is recommended not make life-changing decisions while it is still active in your life. It is important to wait until the fog of Limerence has lifted and your judgement is not distorted anymore.
If you want to understand better the feelings that you are experiencing or if you want to work together with your partner on overcoming this, we strongly encourage you to consider couple counselling or speak individually to a therapist. We are here to help.