A previous post riffed off a podcast by Joe Beam about limerence affairs, and the phases that they pass through. It seems to be a post that resonated with a lot of readers, and to judge from my inbox there are unfortunately a lot of people out there in this unhappy situation. Understandably, they are struggling to make sense of what is happening to them and their spouse, what to do about it, and what it all means for the future of their marriage.
Given that I am not a marriage counsellor (in any professional capacity), I thought it would be useful to reach out to the folks at MarriageRadio.com for a follow up, and put to them the questions that I most commonly receive from people who have written to me since that post went up.
Coach Lee was kind enough to reply, and share his own experience of coaching couples and individuals who are labouring through the impact of limerence on their marriages.
Here are his As to my Qs:
1. In your experience, what proportion of affairs involve limerence?
If it is a long-term, emotional affair, it usually involves limerence. Short-term affairs or one-night stands rarely if ever do. That is because limerence takes some time to develop. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but a one-week fling that ends can escape the limerent impact. I won’t say that it always escapes it, because sometimes a person can build up the experience and the lover to the point that they think themselves into limerence.
2. Do you think that limerence is a symptom of martial problems or the cause of them?
Both. Usually someone has to be primed to be a host for a limerence affair. Let’s take the example of a sexually neglected husband. Don’t get me wrong, I work with equally as many wives who feel sexually neglected, but for this example, let’s say that a husband is often turned down for sex by his wife.
She often doesn’t realize that she is making him feel undesired, undesirable, rejected, and even ugly. The negative impact on a marriage is usually tremendous. It impacts him emotionally to levels that are often discounted as simply not getting relief of a sexual urge. It’s more than that and will be taken personally and internalized within him. So he has a negative association with his wife. She makes him feel bad about himself and, to quote one man I worked with, “She made me feel like I was disgusting.”
Now let’s say he meets a woman who shows sexual interest in him. Usually in a very short time period he feels valued, wanted, important, and special. She makes him feel handsome and desired. He associates positive and joyful feelings with her. Emotional and physical intimacy is likely to follow.
In that case, limerence is a near slam dunk. The wife holds the cards of a past that made him feel that he was disgusting. This new person, now the limerent object, is on the other extreme, reaching beyond sex to the point of making him feel loved and precious. In a case like that, it’s not even a difficult decision unless there are children involved and even then, most people can only take so much rejection by the person who vowed to forsake all others but is also now forsaking them. Some report feeling zero guilt in pushing forward in full force with the affair.
I’m not suggesting that this is the only reason for a limerence affair, but it is possibly the most common.
3. How big a betrayal is an emotional affair that has not become physical?
Limerence almost always has a physical element. If an affair is confined to emotion, first, I would have a healthy dose of skepticism to that claim. Yes, it’s possible, but it’s often claimed that an affair isn’t sexual in an attempt to soften the reaction of the wronged, spouse. However, if it is a purely emotional affair, betrayal still exists. Purely physical affairs are easier to pull out of than emotional affairs. A true limerence affair involves both emotional and physical intimacy. Intimacy with another, be it physically or emotionally is the betrayal and emotional betrayal is as brutal, at least, as the physical counterpart.
4. How long do limerence affairs typically last?
I talk about this in my article at https://myexbackcoach.com/what-is-limerence/. My stock answer on that is two months to three years. If the first six months the two lovers can be with each other often and easily then it becomes difficult as there seems to be a lengthening impact because the two have developed such intense limerence. Whereas, if the two don’t have as much heart-to-heart and body-to-body time, if they are found out or something comes up that makes the relationship significantly more difficult, it’s easier for them to back out and to have a relatively quick recovery from limerence.
5. Does waiting for the limerent spouse to “snap out of it” work?
That’s the deceptive part in terms of the videos and articles I’ve read online about limerence. There are a lot of people peddling false hope that what the other person is feeling is “just limerence,” and therefore, the relationship can’t last. The spouse wanting to save their marriage is often given some false hope in that.
The reason for this is that limerence is not good or bad. In fact, the married couple going through this crisis likely experienced limerence together when they first started dating, courting, etc. Limerence is intended to bring two strangers close or else why would two people who don’t know each other want to see each other and make such effort to be together?
Limerence is intended to bring two people to a future place where commitment, friendship, companionship, and a family-like love exists and takes over as limerence fades away. That doesn’t mean there is not romance and passion, but it isn’t coming from a state of limerence.
So the danger is that the limerent spouse will develop those other forms of love – friendship, companionship, commitment, and a family-like love – for and with this other person. The good news is that there are ways to re-attract the straying spouse out of limerence and I go over that in my upcoming Emergency Marriage Kit.
6. Finally, what is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone whose spouse is limerent for an affair partner?
Be careful. Some armchair coaches or your favorite aunt might encourage you to play hardball with this person.
You risk making yourself a villain to your straying spouse. I’m not suggesting that you protect your limerent spouse from the consequences of her/his actions, but I am suggesting that you don’t attack or meddle in the illicit relationship. The risk is that you could make limerence stronger because the two of them will feel that it is the two of them against you and maybe even the entire world!
You also don’t want to create drama and fighting because that makes it even easier for the straying spouse to see the limerent object as the better choice. You don’t want your spouse to see this other person as a source of nurturing and peace while you are a source of drama, yelling, anger, and attacks.
Is that fair? Probably not but that is your reality. As limerence fades, and it often happens in steps or moments where he/she feels outside of it and can be logical again, your straying spouse can be rational and see what is being lost. This can increase the rate at which limerence declines.
That is, again, why it is important to let the limerent spouse experience the consequences of their actions. This will often happen without much involvement from the spouse wanting to save the marriage. The best thing that you can do is to improve yourself. Become the most attractive you can be physically, emotionally, and intellectually. This is often a somewhat long road so understanding that is important as well.