Case study: Is my current relationship bound to be unfulfilling because it is non-limerent?

A change of pace today, stimulated by a question sent in by SK. I’ll start with the disclaimer that I have no qualifications as a psychologist, psychiatrist or other professional analyst. However, I do have lots of opinions, so I’m answering in the spirit of a well-meaning agony aunt.

Image result for claire rayner

R.I.P. wise woman from my childhood Saturday mornings

SK has a quandary that a lot of limerents face:

Here goes: I discovered the concept of limerence about three years ago after my 4th limerence episode left me with some intense depression. I entered a new relationship a few months later and have been with that SO for about three years, but never felt limerent about them since I was getting over the previous limerence (it takes me around 2-4 years to get over an episode). I care very deeply about my current SO, and I feel that our relationship is one that could potentially offer a lifetime of mutual care and support. However, it unnerves me that I never felt limerent for this person. I have viewed limerence as a pathology to get over, like depression/anxiety, so the past few years of waning limerence and healthy non-limerent relationship building have felt good for me. 

However, after finally getting to a place of apathy about LO #4, I’m afraid I’m in the “crystallization” phase of limerence #5. It is not clear to me from your blog whether or not serious limerents like myself are “doomed” to forever repeat these multi-year cycles of obsession over LOs. I don’t want to go through this every 2-4 years for the rest of my life. It’s depressing and in my current situation it’s causing me a lot of guilt. 

I want to know, if I left my current relationship and tried to create a lasting relationship with a LO who was limerent about me too (not necessarily LO #5), would we settle into a healthy pair-bonded relationship and my limerent episodes would end? Or would I become limerent for someone else eventually even if I was happily married to a former LO? Is my current relationship bound to be unfulfilling because it is non-limerent, or should I stick with it with the recognition that I’m just by nature set to get obsessed with people every once in a while and that my actual SO is the best life partner in actuality? 

Those are big questions. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

The first thing that strikes me is that your 4th episode of limerence was obviously a negative experience. I’m going to assume that  the previous 3 episodes ended up being mostly negative too – especially as you seem to have emerged from this period with the conclusion that limerence is a pathology to get over. One explanation for this may be that you become limerent for people who are unsuitable partners. That is not uncommon. In fact, the appeal of a “lost soul” can be an especially potent trigger for some people. Similarly, some limerents repeatedly fall for unavailable people, narcissists, or other disordered personality types, all of whom are very poor prospects when it comes to life partnerships. So, an important point for self-reflection is: can you spot a pattern for your “limerence triggers”? Is there a common type of person for who you become serially limerent? If limerence has tended to mean agony for you, then you can look at it like an alcoholic looks at booze: it feels good for a bit, but isn’t worth the damage. In contrast, it may be that you don’t see an obvious pattern, and that previous LOs were just the usual mix of good and bad that people tend to be. It’s worth spending the time on this – if only because ruminating on the nature of limerence and your own susceptibility is a good reminder that it emerges within you, and it’s a lot better than ruminating about LO#5.

The next issue is being unnerved that SO didn’t trigger limerence. Limerents often mistake the strength of their infatuation for an indicator of how much “in love” they are with LO. In reality, while long-term love can follow on from mutual limerence, it depends on both personalities being compatible, and capable of mutual respect, support and patience. Early infatuation is often completely unrelated to that. So, does the strength of limerence have any predictive power for the stability of a long-term relationship? My answer is no. Definitely not. Long term happiness – healthy love – will emerge with people that respect you, care for you, and are happy being with you. Within that framework there is a lot of scope for variation: SO can be quiet and thoughtful, or live an exciting life, be competitive, outgoing, and thrilling to be around. This principle doesn’t mean settling for someone dull, it means avoiding people who have poor character.

Hovering behind these issues, however, is the fear that you will come to regret missing out on the blissful consummation of mutual limerence. It’s hard to know that without a crystal ball. You may. Or, you may look back and be proud that the mania of limerence for unsuitable people never caused you to derail a good life. All relationships of value require sacrifice, and committing to one person is a conscious decision to forsake all others – LOs included. One of life’s certainties is that you don’t get to try over and see if the other option was better. There’s no escaping sacrifice, but it’s not something to be scared of if you want to live a life of meaning.

Next: are limerents doomed to forever repeat their cycles of obsession? Well… yes and no. Yes because limerence does appear to be an inherent trait for many people, but no because how you respond to the emergence of limerence will determine how serious the cycle of obsession is. As you put it, you are afraid that you are crystallising about a new LO. Build on that self-awareness and take steps to limit the crystallisation. If you are able to go no contact it is a good idea. If not, do what you can to limit the process. Try some of these tactics. When you feel the glimmer in future, recognise that person as a potential threat and act accordingly. Limerence comes from within, and so understanding yourself better, being aware of your vulnerabilities, and taking positive steps to regulate your response is the best way to manage it. There is good reason to be optimistic that future cycles can be cut short or stopped before they start.

Looking to the future: it is very unlikely that marrying an LO will be a protection against future limerence episodes. I was limerent for my wife, but then became limerent for someone else years later. Lots of married people end up in trouble because they do not expect to succumb to limerence again. I’m labouring this point, but it’s important: limerence comes from within you. The LO is basically a vehicle that you use to try and satisfy an internal need. Because of that, whether or not you once became limerent for your SO will not affect your susceptibility to limerence in the future. Ultimately, the decision for limerents to make is: do I choose to commit to one person and manage future limerence, or do I adopt a life of serial monogamy, switching partners as I become newly limerent every few years?

Finally, as I’m sure you would anticipate, I genuinely don’t know whether your SO is the right choice for a life partner! No one does. A healthy non-limerent relationship that feels good to you, and is based on mutual care and support is a lot to build on, but there are no guarantees. You should also be clear on what both you and SO want. Communicate honestly. Do you have romantic feelings for them, or are they more like an affectionate companion? How do they feel about you? Everyone has different expectations and hopes and dreams.

If there is an overarching theme of this blog it is that doing the work to understand yourself, choosing to behave with honesty and integrity, and living with purpose is the best way of solving most of life’s problems. Ignore LO#5 if you can. Their only value at the moment is in stimulating you to do the deep work of understanding yourself and what you need. They will be a distraction while making this important decision.

Good luck.

9 thoughts on “Case study: Is my current relationship bound to be unfulfilling because it is non-limerent?

  1. If there’s one thing I have learnt now, it’s that I am to blame for all my Limerant episodes. That is, I allowed it to grow by seeking further contact with females who game me an iota of attention. I then continued to feed it seeking reciprocation by looking for engagement with them. My wife was my LO for several months over 20 years ago. I then had 3 more Limerant episodes whilst being in a relationship with her.

    I am now coming out of an LO obsession and have vowed never, ever to repeat this as it has nearly destroyed me. This has been my most intense one ever and having just recently found out my LO has found a partner it has caused me lots of misery etc. this has caused me to re evaluate everything in my life and also caused me to identify exactly what my problem is.

    So, as my current LO fades slowly from my brain ( and it is very slowly) I aim to never get into this state again after what I have learnt on here!

    So yes, even if One gets involved with their LO in a relationship it would be very easy to go down the path again if you have not identified the problem that is Limerance

    P.S, still very happily married!

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  2. Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Consequence

    If any of them = 0, there is no risk. Identifying potential LOs is good but there is little you can practically do to eliminate threat. They are who they are. Usually, the best you can do is avoid them.

    There may not be much you can do to mitigate consequences. To quote Darth Vader, “The Emperor is not so forgiving as I am.”

    It’s failure to identify and correct your vulnerabilities that puts you future risk. It’s the only risk factor we control.

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  3. This one bothers me. Also hovering behind the question is the underlying idea that non-limerents aren’t capable of experiencing or giving love.

    “I care very deeply about my current SO, and I feel that our relationship is one that could potentially offer a lifetime of mutual care and support.”

    The writer hasn’t stated that they love their current SO. For that reason alone I hope they discuss this in depth with their SO. It sounds so patronizing. Maybe SO wants more than to be regarded as a potential lifetime companion with some pity sex on the side.

    Perhaps SK is mistaking the lack of limerence as a lack of love. Or maybe SK doesn’t love their current SO. Seems as though more than one conversation may be needed between SK and non-LO SO.

    Admittedly this is seen through my shit-smeared glasses as my husband dropped quite a bombshell on me while in the midst of being treated for cancer and dubbed it limerence. It may be limerence, but it also means that I’m a chump and I got played for a fool. When the going got hard – he left. But first! He made certain to have a nice warm bed and sexy younger companion too. In the end, I’m the winner but it’s rough going at the moment.

    SK – I hope you lay it out for your SO. When given all the information, SO may exercise free agency and your dilemma may be moot. You both deserve to have someone who loves you for who you are.

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    • Perhaps SK is mistaking the lack of limerence as a lack of love. Or maybe SK doesn’t love their current SO. Seems as though more than one conversation may be needed between SK and non-LO SO.

      I think this is the heart of the problem. For people who feel that limerence is a mania that consumes them, it can be really difficult to understand what “healthy” love is like – should it follow on from limerence, or is it completely independent?

      For all that I’ve read, I think the only straightforward answer is that different limerents have reached different conclusions. If you become limerent for dysfunctional people then affectional bonding with a loving SO can seem very confusing. I agree it seems a bit loveless to try and “decide” whether a relationship is good, but for some people that’s their best hope of breaking a cycle of disordered bonding.

      As to your last point: chumps are very welcome here. I think that the perspective of SOs who have had to deal with the fallout of limerents behaving selfishly, is a powerful voice for conflicted limerents to hear. So, thanks.

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    • I think limerents sometimes forget that when they’re distracted by someone else, they’re neglecting other relationships and duties. Life isn’t always a lot of fun. Dishes don’t wash themselves. Bills don’t get paid all on their own. Paychecks only show up when you do your job, etc.

      You may say and truly believe otherwise, but if you’re pining, or writing responses to someone else, then you are not truly present and engaged in your primary relationships. Whether it’s with your SO/spouse, or your kid, or your job. Whatever it may be, you’re marking time until you see your SO, or they reply to your email, or you speak to them again.

      If you’re going to half-ass it, be honest and clear out. Don’t offer false hope. Don’t permit anyone for whom you have any respect to start to engage in the “pick me!” dance. Take the risk that when your head clears you may or may not have either SO or your LO but you will have yourself.

      I am angry. I have no issue stating that. I was sick, fighting for my life, and doing everything short of twirling tassels from my **** (when I had them) while doing the limbo under a flaming pole. If my STBX had only packed up and cleared out so I could mourn and then focus entirely on MY fight and MY survival rather than trying to do that AND be a supportive loving spouse, well, it would have been better for me. His public image would have been shattered. Waiting until later minimized the fallout for him. Plus that nice warm bed with a lithe younger woman. Meanwhile, he was also taking bigger risks by introducing a third party to our marriage without telling me, or taking adult precautions. Thanks, honey.

      Admittedly he says it’s limerence. I have no idea. Nor do I particularly care. He can call it whatever he likes and feel that he got a good deal out of dumping the old gray mare. Mostly, I feel better knowing I’m shot of him.

      When it mattered, his character was revealed.

      I’m a big fan of laying it out on the line. It may not have saved our marriage, but he might have retained a shred of integrity. I wouldn’t be wandering around stitching my dignity back together like a quilt. I’ll succeed, but it will take some time.

      This is what consequences can look like from this side when someone doesn’t behave honourably.

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      • “You may say and truly believe otherwise, but if you’re pining, or writing responses to someone else, then you are not truly present and engaged in your primary relationships. Whether it’s with your SO/spouse, or your kid, or your job. Whatever it may be, you’re marking time until you see your SO, or they reply to your email, or you speak to them again.”

        This is so true. I am/was guilty as charged of all of the above. I could absolutely feel this happening at the time. Many things were very close to being destroyed; I guess they still could be. I tried to handle everything as I did not want to (or internally felt I could not) break the attachment to LO.

        This was my first case of limerence; I had never heard the term before. No excuse. But I do understand myself a lot better, and have done a lot of soul work. I am still in midst of a transition to NC with LO. I have stopped myself from responding to a few emails that I would have previously. Circumstances will have me around the LO a few times over the next few weeks. I am still figuring out how to navigate this.

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  4. This is from another web site. I’ve edited it to address limerence and limerence only.

    “People who are truly remorseful and not simply trying to avoid consequences behave remorsefully. They are humble. They look to change their behavior and their responses. They apologize. They are understanding. They don’t put time limits on your anger or grieving. They realize that you are in charge and it doesn’t matter what they need; it matters what you need. They own their actions instead of putting them off onto you. They tell you what you want to know; they don’t make you beg for answers. They don’t keep secrets. They realize “trickle truth” isn’t any kind of truth at all; it’s lying by omission and trying to keep control over the narrative. They don’t try to keep you off-balance. They support you. They have your back. They realize they are not owed forgiveness or reconciliation. They focus on you; they put whatever injustices they feel they have experienced that led them to someone else, on the back burner and concentrate on your feelings of betrayal. They keep the focus on what they have done; they don’t hand out false equivalencies or attempt to point out all your faults.”

    Humility. That seems to be the big dividing line between those who are trying to wrestle with limerence and its effects on the individual and their intimates and those who are using it for their own purposes, or wallowing in it.

    I think most of the people who discuss their feelings of limerence on this site are wrestling, not wallowing. I apologize for my tone being a bit sharp. The person I want to address isn’t interested in listening or learning. I’ll try to be more mindful of my audience.

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    • I think most of the people who discuss their feelings of limerence on this site are wrestling, not wallowing. I apologize for my tone being a bit sharp. The person I want to address isn’t interested in listening or learning. I’ll try to be more mindful of my audience.

      That’s what I’m hoping for. There are forums out there for people who want to just ruminate out loud about their LOs (they’re really boring) – here I try to be more constructive and focus on what limerence is and how we can understand ourselves better as limerents.

      I don’t think there is any reason to think that SK has betrayed their LO, so yes, let’s focus on what can be done to help them navigate their way through their quandary.

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