Here’s a good podcast about limerence from Joe Beam, a marriage counsellor in the US.
It’s quite long, but worth it because there are a few real gems. The topic of discussion is focussed on married people, mainly how and why limerence affairs happen, but it has some insights into the phenomenon of limerence generally. In particular, he discusses the path of co-limerence and identifies three stages to the typical mutual limerence dance:
This is the “getting to know you” phase, where you start to really notice the LO and start to feel they are special. Joe Beam frames this in terms of an unconscious need of the limerent to feel worthy of being loved. It’s fed by a sense of connection and emotional bonding, and the desire to spend time with the LO who makes the limerent feel safe and motivated to share emotional intimacies.
This is the full blown limerence response – so the full complement of traits. In the case of the limerence affair, this will also include the rewriting of history about the limerent’s marriage. It can also be characterised by a striking fear of loss. While this is a feature of all limerence, the precarious and dishonest basis of an affair likely heightens the fear. Which can reinforce the limerence.
As the name suggests, this is the phase where limerence decays. After a period in phase 2, the limerent starts to lose the urge to idealise the LO’s behaviour. The “halo effect” is tarnished, and the limerent begins to properly see the flaws of the LO. Again, in the case of an affair – especially one that causes the breakdown of the marriage – this is likely to be exaggerated. This heightened devaluation is well captured by the portentous phrase “look what you cost me”.
It’s an interesting framework, and no doubt evolved from his work with married couples. I’m not sure it’s universally useful as a way of understanding limerence, but it does give a good roadmap for how an affair is likely to play out if limerence is the trigger.
There were a few other observations that struck me as particularly powerful. The first was the potency of the first moment of deceit. As he explains, there will come a point in the infatuation phase where you are spending a lot of time with LO and bonding emotionally. People will notice. Co-workers, friends, spouses – whoever – and someone will ask a question, make a comment, or tease you. And you will minimise it, or laugh it off, or flat-out lie. You may even take steps to be more discreet. Not end the emotional affair of course, not stop seeing LO, but perhaps meet for coffee at a new café, or arrive separately, or change your schedule. You know, to stop people gossiping.
That’s the point that you know for sure you are not “just friends”.
The second observation that struck me was the fact that mutual limerence is often mistimed. One person becomes limerent faster than the other, and then tries to drag the other out of phase 1 and into phase 2 with them. Ironically enough, he also suggests there is a tendency for “first in first out”, as the same (hasty) limerent goes into phase 3 faster too. Of course, the poor slowcoach limerent is then desperate, and tries everything they can to get their LO back into phase 2. Which accelerates the deterioration, usually.
Finally, a big kicker comes from his observation that limerence literally changes you. “You’re not the man I first met,” is not just a barb from an LO in phase 3; it’s the truth. To cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by an affair (I am a good person, but I am betraying my spouse) requires either a reconceptualisation of the limerent’s self-worth and realisation that they are not behaving like a good person (yeah, right), or a change in their value system and moral compass (everyone has affairs; true love is more important than duty; monogamy is unnatural). To maintain self-worth while totally inverting their emotional loyalties requires rewriting pretty major aspects of their identity.