Deprogramming the limerent brain

Time usually resolves limerence, but sometimes we limerents impatiently wonder, where’s the damn off switch?

Now some people are resistant to the very idea of reducing love to a biochemical process in our brains that can be analysed, understood and manipulated, but those people are probably not in the middle of a limerence crisis. While I think my credentials as a romantic are solid, I also have a practical nature and so have spent a fair amount of time thinking about what can actually be done to try and counteract the immediate impact of limerence when it’s unwanted.

In the long term, my favoured solution is purposeful living, which may or may not need to follow a period of deep introspection and possibly professional help in understanding just what’s up with your crazy brain and why you are prone to the limerence rollercoaster. But sometimes, more urgent intervention is desirable, so what tactics do we have at our disposal to try and at least moderate the emotional overload? I’ve talked before about some of the best, but today I’m going to focus on the mind games. Can we deprogram ourselves and stop an LO being an LO?

I’d answer with a tentative yes.


What does forgetting mean? That probably sounds like a silly question, but like much in neuroscience, it’s quite subtle. In some cases, forgetting is a total blank – you just can’t recall the event, person, experience or place. You need external evidence to even believe that such a thing occurred. But that’s very rare for powerful stimuli, and I think we can all agree that limerence falls into that category. So it’s foolish to aim for the goal of total forgetting; what we really want is for that person – the LO – to be less powerful as a stimulus. For us to be able to manage our interactions with them without getting overaroused, and for them to not dominate our minds when we are away from them. Here we are on firmer territory when it comes to research. Associating certain stimuli with reward or punishment, and reinforcing or diminishing those stimuli is at the heart of conditioning and there’s loads of literature to draw on.


Such as… hey, what are you two up to back there?!

Now, as an aside, I want to be clear that the research on limerence itself in this context is basically non-existent, so this is all speculative territory and relies on an analogy between well understood rewards (such as food or pharmacological stimulants) and limerence as a manifestation of finding a specific person a rewarding and potentially addictive stimulus. So, I’m pushing the boat out into speculative waters here…


When has that ever stopped me before?

With that qualification out of the way, let’s dive in.


How do you get rid of a memory you don’t want? Actually, the way we do this is to overwrite the original memory with a new one. Let’s take the example of Pavlov’s dogs. This is a bit hackneyed, but it’s familiar and that’s useful. So, the story goes that Pavlov trained his dogs to associate the sound of a bell ringing with the delivery of food (this isn’t quite what happened, but never mind). After training his dogs in this way for a while, the dogs began to anticipate the food by salivating whenever the bell was rung. This is the classic example of conditioning, which involves “associative memory” (learning a new association between stimuli). So far so good. But what happens if you keep ringing the bell, but stop delivering food? At first, the dogs keep drooling like the messy pups they are. But over time, the bell ceases to trigger anticipation, and the dogs get used to the fact that they are no longer getting their lovely chow and so stop salivating. The previous associative memory has been lost, through a process known as extinction, but it takes a while for this “bell but no food” lesson to be learned.

Since Pavlov’s day, of course, there has been a great deal of research into these processes, and it turns out that the brain is really quite weird and surprising, and fun to mess with. At one level, it seems that extinction should just be a fading away of an old memory that is no longer relevant, but actually it’s more complicated than that. What’s actually happening is that a new associative memory has been learned that overwrites the original one and supercedes it. This is easy to anthropomorphise – “oh, there’s that bell that used to mean that food was coming, but hasn’t done for a while, so no need to get excited.”

At the risk of letting this post get totally out of hand with a discussion of memory and learning, there are three other relevant points before we get back to limerence. 1) Because extinction is a superceding of old associations, rather than forgetting, the old memory can be recalled quickly when the original stimulus is reintroduced. Dogs learn to salivate faster if they have previously been conditioned and then extinguished, compared to dogs learning the association in the first place. 2) Intermittent reinforcement schedules take a lot longer to extinguish than regular ones. 3) Punishment (negative reinforcement) accelerates extinction.

Limerence extinction

What can we learn from all this to help with elimination of limerence? Given what we know about conditioning and extinction, we could devise the follow method for mental mastery of limerence:

1) Recognise that being with LO or ruminating about LO is giving you pleasure and continuing in these behaviours is reinforcing your conditioning.

2) Decide that you want to extinguish that associative memory.

3) Devise a negative reinforcement programme to hasten extinction and overwrite the original positive association.

That’s the plan. What does it look like in practical terms?

No contact if possible, obviously. If not possible, then limited contact is next best. Either way, contact is not always in your control, or predictable. However, another key aspect of limerence reinforcement that most certainly is within your control is rumination. Entering a reverie and fantasising or rehearsing interactions with LO is a way of seeking pleasure in the early stages and relief from withdrawal in the later stages of limerence. You need to break that association. Each time you willingly enter reverie, you reinforce those connections, and reinforce the associative memory “LO = pleasure”. That’s why we do it. Reverie gives relief from discomfort by imagining a positive encounter.

If you are one of those limerents that enjoys a rich imagination, you will almost certainly have invented some pleasant fantasy scenarios with LO. These are the perfect mechanism for generating your own extinction programme. By inventing new outcomes to your reveries, you can turn your sweet, rewarding fantasies into sour punishments.

Let’s say you imagine driving off into the sunset with LO as a daydream. Now you need to vividly imagine LO suddenly shouting “I’m sorry, I’ve made a terrible mistake! Stop the car! I have to leave! I don’t know what I was thinking! I never want to see you again!” (include all the exclamation marks). You can go to town on this – the key thing is to make your reverie punishing. When you fantasise about having a new life with LO, turn it into a nightmare of rows, regrets, misunderstandings and emotional devastation. When I was in the early stages of my last limerence episode, I used to idly fantasise about “what if…” and built up an embarrassingly elaborate scenario in which my life had played out differently and LO and I could have ended up together. Once I realised the limerence was harming me, I managed to re-imagine that scenario into such a train-wreck of disaster and humiliation that I now shudder a bit whenever the thought enters my mind.

This whole mental game can seem a bit contrived, and while it helped me, it may not work for everyone. You may feel uncomfortable – that’s fine (and probably means it’s working). You may even feel it is disrespectful to LO, who you are now actively reworking into a terrible person that you want to avoid, but don’t despair – your internal world is your sole domain. As tyrant you have complete freedom to do as you please, guilt free. No LO will be harmed by this process.

Whether or not this tactic proves fruitful for you, a good understanding of what associative memory is and how extinction works undoubtedly helps in kicking the habit of limerence daydreaming.

You’ve really got to want to, though.

37 thoughts on “Deprogramming the limerent brain

  1. If you have an aversion or dislike for a particular scent and can find a bottle of it, take a sniff whenever the LO appears. Scent is a strong trigger for memories and if the LO has a particular smell (brand of soap or something), it might not hurt to try and counteract it.

    Some people hate the smell of peppermint or lavender, others hate particular brands. Dior H’omme vintage inspired this quote, “Lol, thank goodness I’m not the only one who doesn’t like smelling like I’ve been sleeping on (sic) RuPaul’s boudoir… ” It was commonly listed as one of the worst.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh. Good one. Scent is a really powerful, but subconscious mood-influencer, and I’m sure scent is one of the drivers for me in becoming limerent for particular LOs.

      Maybe carry around a box of anti-LO snuff at all times? Snorting some down whenever they’re around would be an effective way of discouraging them from seeking your company too.


      • Oh this IS a good one! I remember telling him how the ‘spice’ curry made me sick to smell and eat. (The Curry we buy as a spice is not curry it’s which ever company who makes the spice mixture and version of it. Google and read up on it, that’s not my point here) Well he used to cook us a diner of fish and a few things which became very enjoyable and then one day he decides he is going to add ‘curry’ to the fish. As I’ve stated in others parts of this blog I believe he is a Narcissist and they don’t respect your boundaries. He cooked the fish with curry without regard for my discomfort or aversion. I ate a bit of it but my stomach bloated, the smell was in my nose and taste in my mouth for hours and I put the plate by the sink half eaten. Now if the aversion to curry weren’t so hard on me I could get a jar of it and sniff it each time I get obsessive about him…I”ll now try to think of that incident and remember the scent of it…great idea I HOPE. I’ve done well the last few days and haven’t been in here to ‘obsess’ with fellow ‘sufferers’ but yesterday at a football party with 15 people around ALL I could think of was HIM! I’d have to go outside from time to time to keep embarrassing myself with tears. Someone had told me something he posted on social media and it kicked off this insane process! I DO NOT WANT TO BE THIS WAY. Tears, internal emotional pain, this is not me! But here I am doing it all over again…curry! think curry Susan!


  2. Just wanted to give a word of thanks for the blog, Dr Limerence. Currently going through a wonderful/horrible limerence experience with someone who isn’t my SO (of course).

    Finding someone who writes about this thorny topic with humour and compassion really takes the sting out of situations like this. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If this would be helpful to others (it was to me), you could think of a limerence as a powerful adverse entity; sure, you would struggle and have casualties, but there’s no question what should be done. Like a revolution, or a war with aliens. You might even make a story out of it.


  4. I really hope that this can help my SO who isn’t keen on going NC with his LO. It’s breaking my heart and I feel like I’m dying inside. He’s angry at me for asking that he goes NC. Am I supposed to set them up on a blind date? (sarcasm) I just am tired of the worry and stress. I’m tired of being available and supposed to know that I’m loved and yet, he won’t go NC. Maybe the Pavlov idea will help. Thank you.


    • Hi Wading. Is this your SO’s first limerence experience? If so, he probably doesn’t realize how destructive the experience can be. In his mind, he probably thinks he’s in control of the situation. That’s only natural: the limerent brain is an expert at self-deception.

      He probably won’t fully understand this until he learns it for himself. Hopefully that involves you convincing him to go NC and him looking back someday and saying, “What the hell was I thinking?”


    • Following this. I’m in a similar boat: wife of a man who refuses to go NC with his LO (he claims she’s his “best friend” and he would surely go crazy without her). It’s agonizing. I’m curious to see if you were able to get your SO to finally consent to go NC?


      • Hi Sunrise,

        That’s a deep question. Is it possible to persuade a besotted limerent to go No Contact? I guess it may be possible to lead someone to the realisation that they are jeopardising their marriage, but whether you can make an ultimatum work… I suppose it depends on the person involved and how they react.

        I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the effect of limerence on impacted spouses. Maybe another post is in order…


      • My husband told me about his involuntary reactions to Miss Exotic. Then he mentioned that he didn’t know if he wanted a lover, daughter or spouse. I stopped him and told him he forgot there was someone else in the relationship who had a say. Me. And if he wanted a lover, then he needed a spouse and I wasn’t going to stick around for it.

        He said it was the freezing cold bucket of water over his head that brought him back to reality. He was horrified that he had never once considered that I would make a decision on my own behalf or that what he was talking about would hurt me so deeply. He was really embarrassed by how tunnel-visioned he was about it all.

        He did what he could to minimize contact with her and took it very seriously. When she left for a new job he was vastly relieved. It had been difficult to have her as a co-worker when every time he heard her voice he would have an involuntary response. He didn’t like it very much when he recognized that he had compromised his integrity in the slightest.

        I didn’t ask for NC. It was impossible anyway. But I did tell him that if I had the slightest whiff of him lying to me by omission or commission I would respond accordingly.



      • Lee, My husband attempted to go NC at least 3 times. Each time he was NC, I would discover he was back in contact when he started “finding” things about our marriage to pick apart and complain about. Like he was finding reasons why he *had* to be talking to her… highlighting problems that didn’t actually exist, or blowing minor things way out of proportion (you left the laundry on the couch so you obviously don’t love me!). His final attempt at NC started when I had a bit of a breakdown and told him I didn’t know how much longer I could hold on… I think the biggest detrimental factor for his failed NC was that he was literally stuck working next to her 40 hours a week. He was completely unable/unwilling to move to another shift if it meant not being around her. When he learned she was quitting the workplace, he was despondent. Finally made the move to day shift, now we have more time together but his mind just is not focused anymore. If she texts him, I can literally watch him completely zone out and disengage. He’s not physically seen her or heard her voice in weeks now, they’re down to just texting. This past week we went to a concert she was also attending. He was looking around for her everywhere while they texted so I asked him if she knew where we were and if she was coming over. He admitted he told her where we were standing and then remarked he hoped she didn’t come over, as it would be “too awkward”. Hmph.


      • “If she texts him, I can literally watch him completely zone out and disengage. He’s not physically seen her or heard her voice in weeks now, they’re down to just texting. This past week we went to a concert she was also attending. He was looking around for her everywhere while they texted so I asked him if she knew where we were and if she was coming over. He admitted he told her where we were standing and then remarked he hoped she didn’t come over, as it would be “too awkward”. Hmph.”

        Sunshine – I’m really, really sorry. That is disrespect on a level that I would find intolerable. There is another web site that *I* think you might be better served reading but I don’t know if it would upset Dr. L. if I mentioned it. Tracy Schorn runs it.

        Dr. L. – Please edit or remove this post if necessary.


      • Hi Lee,

        Thanks for your caution, but I’m fine with mentioning Chumplady! I also agree that I would really question the motives of an action like that – what is being communicated by “I really have to tell her everything I’m doing, but I don’t want to have to explain myself in front of you”? Well, other than a lack of consideration of Sunshine’s feelings, naturally.

        Re. comment policy: probably need to write a guide soon, but rule of thumb for now is “constructive advice for the commenters is the aim, which rarely involves attacks on people’s character.”


      • Lee- I appreciate the nudge to CL. I have browsed through some of the articles but it seems so… vitriolic. I’m not trying to hate on my husband, nor am I trying to ruin his life. I’m trying to understand what he’s going through, and be here for him the best I am able to. If it gets to a point where I feel it’s too detrimental to either my or my daughter’s emotional health, I will have to walk another path.


      • “Following this. I’m in a similar boat: wife of a man who refuses to go NC with his LO (he claims she’s his “best friend” and he would surely go crazy without her). It’s agonizing. I’m curious to see if you were able to get your SO to finally consent to go NC?”

        It may take you down a path you don’t want to go but the next logical question to him is, “If that’s the way you feel, why are you still here?”

        “Each time he was NC, I would discover he was back in contact when he started “finding” things about our marriage to pick apart and complain about. Like he was finding reasons why he *had* to be talking to her… highlighting problems that didn’t actually exist, or blowing minor things way out of proportion (you left the laundry on the couch so you obviously don’t love me!).”

        I agree that marital problems can influence limerence. There were problems in my marriage when I encountered my last LO.

        But, blaming you for his behavior is really bad sign that’s outside the scope of limerence. If you accept responsibility for his bad behavior, it’s a tacit admission of guilt and he’ll use it against you forever. Maybe not with this LO but it’s a weapon in his arsenal.

        Is your failing to meet his expectations a new phenomenon with this LO or have you seen it before in other areas?


      • This is the first time we’ve encountered this. There was never any real discussion prior to his depression/attaching to the LO about issues in the marriage. Guess that would be a communication problem: he was bothered by something that didn’t necessarily bother me so much and was unaware of how to start a conversation about it. He would also “read into” things that were said, instead of asking for clarification.Add to that, we were also operating on very little time together due to opposite schedules, which was an issue we discussed (he was supposed to swap to day shift). He was extremely affectionate and loving towards me, early in the situation he was very remorseful and upset about his inability to keep away from her, each time I pressed for NC he became further and further removed from me. He has said on multiple occasions that he knows what issues we had weren’t solely my fault, he’s aware he shoulders blame there as well. The big thing I hear him repeat is he “just wants to be happy and not cry all the time”.


      • You should also be aware that he will find more and more faults with you and the marriage as the limerence progresses. It’s encouraging that he was remorseful at the start, but it does now sound as though he has slipped deeper into limerence and is devaluing you actively. That’s not uncommon, but it’s also not acceptable.

        I bet you’d like to be happy too. Most people would. The key thing is that everyone needs to take responsibility for their own happiness. Being in an affectionate (if imperfect) marriage and then having a breakdown and suddenly becoming limerent for someone else is not an indication that the marriage was the problem. It’s an indication that your husband is looking for someone else to take responsibility for him, and this “amazingly supportive” colleague might just be the magical person who can fix his depression. Of course, she can’t, just like you (or anyone else) can’t.

        It will be hard, but rather than trying to get him to go NC with LO, you might want to lay out to him the effect his behaviour is having on your family, and ask him to take responsibility for his own fate. He may not be reachable yet, but until he does face up to the fact that this is his problem to solve, you will drive yourself mad trying to second guess what’s wrong with him and what you could do to somehow solve this for him.


      • Sunshine,

        I hope it works out. I’m leery of someone who keeps moving the goalposts on what you need to do to “make” him happy while absorbing himself of any responsibility for his actions. Plus he’s not telling you when he slips up, you’re catching him. At least that is what it sounds like.

        “Do or do not, there is no try.”

        Clearly you are “doing”. I hope he is too.


      • Sophie,

        I think it’s time to see a professional. Go for yourself and see what he/she says. At some point, they may want to see your husband, too.

        This is a great place but at some point, you need to call in the pros.


      • Sunrise –

        If I may ask, what ideas and actions for dealing with his limerence has your husband initiated without prompting by you? If you are the source of all the ideas or actions then he isn’t nearly as invested in the outcome.


      • “The big thing I hear him repeat is he “just wants to be happy and not cry all the time”.”

        Of course, he does. That’s not an altruistic statement. If you were happy and not crying all the time, all this would be easier on him. If he were truly interested in your happiness, he’d do what’s necessary to make it happen, even if it meant NC with the LO. It’s called “doing the right thing” even if it isn’t what you’d prefer to do. That’s about as selfish statement as you can get without flat out coming out and saying it.

        People think doing the right thing is easy but it often isn’t. Doing the right thing often calls for foregoing what you want in the best interest of the person you care about. Relationships often require sacrifice (queue Elton John) but they NEVER demand sacrifice.

        He wants the problem (i.e., your crying all the time) to go away.


      • “He wants the problem (i.e., your crying all the time) to go away.”

        But if you stop crying or bringing it up, he will regard it as you accepting the situation so he gets everything and it costs him nothing.

        I really hope that he is taking the situation seriously and blocks her number. Without any prompting by you. True contrition takes action and responsibility and does it without whining about his sacrifice.

        I’ll keep my fingers crossed but if you haven’t taken steps to protect your finances yet, I hope you do so now.


      • Guys, I thought Sunrise’s comment was that the SO is tired of being unhappy and crying all the time. Being in a limerent state while married is can be exhausting. I was going to say it also isn’t fun, but the euphoric highs are fun in the moment, though harmful. The SO obviously doesn’t want to give that up. But what is happening to Sunrise is not acceptable.


      • Yes, I agree – I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, Scharnhorst and Lee.
        It’s Sunrise’s husband that wants to “be happy and stop crying all the time.” The issue is that he seems to not recognise that it is the emotional conflict that he is mismanaging that is causing the tears. Not something that Sunrise can fix by changing her behaviour…


      • I think you’re correct, Thinker.

        In addition, I suspect he’s crying, or telling her that he is crying, in order to minimize her pain as a result of his actions.

        So yeah, what is happening to Sunrise is unacceptable all around.


  5. I’m “pacing” myself through this entire blog, so I haven’t made it this far. But I saw the recent comments and they struck a chord with me. Please know that I was the one in limerence, not my SO. And my experience did quickly evolve into mutual love with the LO, before other barriers were set up again (aside from the fact we each had families!) which sent me back into limerence.

    From William: “Is this your SO’s first limerence experience? If so, he probably doesn’t realize how destructive the experience can be. In his mind, he probably thinks he’s in control of the situation. That’s only natural: the limerent brain is an expert at self-deception.”

    This was my first limerence experience. I absolutely thought I could handle having a family and having a relationship with LO. I was wrong. I could not handle it, as some things are just a zero-sum game. More intimate attention to the LO meant less toward my family. But I rationalized it all in my mind. I even said to myself “this is not going to end well”.

    From Sunrise: “Following this. I’m in a similar boat: wife of a man who refuses to go NC with his LO (he claims she’s his “best friend” and he would surely go crazy without her). It’s agonizing. I’m curious to see if you were able to get your SO to finally consent to go NC?”

    I knew LO for a long time. We were good friends, and sometimes would dance into personal topics. And we would sometimes push the line, but overall I managed my attraction to her. I think in hindsight, I got my “fix” every week by talking to her or going to lunch (just the two of us) and being satisfied with that since we had separate lives and while something more might be nice, it was impossible. My SO knew of her as a good friend of mine, and I wanted the four of us as two couples to become friends or do things together, but my wife and I are 10-12 years older than them and other differences in interests plus kid stuff made it tough to set up.

    When LO left my workplace last spring, I had a complete meltdown. I had no idea how I was going to get my “fix” going forward, as this was someone I had become very attached to. I revealed to my SO that LO was leaving the office but I wanted to stay in touch with her. My SO (VERY RELUCTANTLY) agreed that I could engage in an outside of work weekly activity (that my SO was not interested in) with LO for a period of time. My SO knew that I was “good friends” with LO, and my SO felt threatened (as she should have been, though I dismissed the seriousness of her concern, though inside I generally agreed with SO). I’d say “What do you mean, married men can’t be friends with women?” My SO would basically say “Yes, that’s not appropriate.” The LO did not have any issues the other way with her spouse, but humans are not all wired the same. In actuality, the uncertainty of the future with LO drove me mad. I was going to fight against NC tooth and nail. I felt there was no other way for me to survive. I felt so much relief that I would remain in contact, and was thankful to SO for her agreement. And I would have resented SO had I given in. Officially, I never disclosed to my SO, but my SO felt the impact of LO in the months that followed as LO and I became WAY TOO CLOSE.

    More for a later time. Sunrise, I wish you strength. I am also summoning my own strength during my initial NC period. Coming to this blog is helping.


    • Thinker, thank you. I had been cheated on in prior relationships, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out *why* this experience felt so much different. Reading this blog as well as other articles on limerence really made things click. My husband didn’t meet his LO until he had a complete emotional breakdown at his workplace (we were going on nearly 6 months of limited contact due to opposite work schedules, and he was already exhibiting signs of depression by this time)- she was the one who was there at work to “pick him up”. Within a two week period he went from not knowing her to “best friend”. I think, had she been someone he had known and been friends with PRIOR to our relationship, I wouldn’t have reacted so badly. But fact was he had no true friends here aside from me, and had only been “work friends” with 3 other people before she entered the picture- people I had encouraged him to go out to eat with, hang out with, etc.

      We had multiple discussions about the situation after I found out how close he was becoming with her. At one point he asked me to trust in him to make the right choices even though he seemed to keep making the wrong turns. I trusted him with my life, my heart- but all the trust in the world doesn’t help that gut-wrenching feeling that sinks in when you see the way your spouse is reacting to texts from another woman. I asked him at one point to allow me to be part of their friendship, to ease my discomfort with this situation but his response was to cry and tell me that if he did, their friendship would no longer be “special”. After that I put the kibosh on him having the weekly dinners he was having with his LO after she quit the workplace (told him he would have to be out of the house within a month if he were to continue, as I consider having intimate dinners without your spouse to be dating. His idea of a “date” is, according to him: arriving & leaving together in the same vehicle, paying on one cheque, and having sex at the end of the evening”. I told him no, that’s what WE do, because we are married.). While on one hand I want him to be able to hang out with friends… well, there’s healthy friendships, and unhealthy friendships. SO’s LO is, to me, firmly in the “unhealthy friendship” category. I can’t wait for this roller coaster ride to be over- I don’t feel we can properly assess the extent of the damage done or the state of our marriage while he’s reacting on pure emotion.


      • When LO announced her exit from my workplace, I desperately wanted to arrange plans to get together as couples; some kind of future contact that I could look forward to. Almost everything my SO and I did socially involved couples, so it wouldn’t seem that odd to try to meet LO as couples. But it was really the LO and I that had the common interests, as the things we each did as married couples weren’t that similar. I stopped fighting to meet as couples when my SO gave in to my NEED to keep in contact. Though my LO also wanted to keep in touch with me; I just did not know how much she meant it until we actually did connect way more than we did when we worked together. I was very surprised at how much closer (intimate) you can become with somebody you have known for a while even after placing physical distance between you (the power of text/phone). The obsessive habit of checking email and letting the other know what you are up to: “I have 15 minutes if you want to talk” kind of stuff. It felt good but was overwhelming, and it felt impossible to give it up.


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