One of the consequences of unwanted limerence is that it forces you to face some important problems. Counterintuitively, limerence often erupts when life has been coasting along pretty well – but the benign neglect of overlooking the disappointments and dissatisfactions of life has quietly destabilised your psychological resilience, and made you vulnerable to limerent infatuation. When the life-quake of limerence hits, it becomes impossible to ignore those eroded foundations.
Today’s case study is a good example of this principle. Zoe got in touch about her situation, in which she became limerent for her new boss, who turned up at her office for a six month secondment and made a big impression.
Zoe and Boss connected emotionally, and Zoe fell headfirst into limerence. Both of them are married, and the emotional affair (as she sees it) never progressed to the point of disclosure. It remained, for Zoe, a private agony, which came to a natural end when LO’s secondment finished.
LO was like the mirror universe version of my husband. He’s the same type physically, but so different in personality. He’s musical, extrovert, communicative, passionate about social justice, but my husband is quiet, shy, never wants to go out of the house and has no ambitions or even hobbies.
I feel like the limerence has made me see how little my husband and I have in common. I’m glad I didn’t have an affair with LO but I can’t keep pretending anymore that everything is fine at home. I’ve tried talking to him about it, and he just gets moody and says I’m never happy. The worst bit is I know he’s right – I’m not happy, but I can’t tell him why not or what caused it. I know I’m not being fair to him because I’m so restless and demanding and he just wants to carry on with our life as it was. It’s like have I been lying to him our whole marriage because I didn’t know I wasn’t happy, or was I actually happy but now I’m not because I felt such a strong feeling for LO that I never felt for my husband?
After a clarifying email, Zoe confirmed she hadn’t been limerent for her husband, and this is her first experience of limerence. She knows her husband is a good man who loves her and wants the marriage to work, but she’s finding it hard to believe that they have a future together.
I know what you say about purposeful living, but every idea I come up with for a change I want to make or a new goal to chase they don’t include my husband. I just can’t imagine us doing things together. Am I throwing away a good life because limerence has made me crazy, or am I just scared to quit because I don’t want to hurt him?
In summary: limerence shook Zoe out of an emotionally complacent life, and she now feels trapped in a marriage to an incompatible husband.
They have no kids, and are in their late twenties so plenty of time left for reinvention. What’s the correct answer to her dilemma?
As is my habit when faced with these impossible scenarios – where only the correspondent knows the full story and suffers the consequences of their choices – I’m going to pose some questions that help illuminate the problem rather than offer advice.
What is your ideal marriage like?
People have different expectations about marriage, some of them reasonable, some of them not. When experienced psychologists and therapists review a lifetime of relationship counselling, they tend to come up with a few key factors that determine the success of a marriage:
- Romantic intimacy
- Mutual respect
- Open communication
- Shared values
- Compatible life goals
Not having all five is OK. Not having more than a couple is a serious problem, and not having mutual respect is fatal.
Fortunately, all these factors can be cultivated over time, especially if it’s done cooperatively with your partner. Probably the best place to start is open communication, as this can help clarify values, life goals, and can also build respect. It can also help mutual understanding of your expectations around romantic intimacy and the relative importance of affection, touch, emotional support, and sex for each of you.
If the prospect of leaping into conversations this serious with your partner is overarousing, then focus for now on getting your own ideas straight. What do you want out of your marriage, and what are you willing to give?
How vivacious were you before limerence?
Limerence is seriously energising. The giddy mix of euphoria and emotional gratification can make the world seem full of joy and promise and opportunity. This is a time when many limerents feel supercharged and full of enthusiasm and optimism. Contrast that with everyday domestic life, and most marriages (and spouses) will seem dull.
It is good to carry over some of the energy from limerence and direct it into a new, purposeful drive to improve life. That’s desirable. But, ask yourself honestly how bubbly and vivacious you were before you met LO? How would you have reacted if the roles were reversed, and you came home from a wearisome day in the office to a husband asking you to go out to a gig with him because you never do anything together anymore?
Being charged up with unspent limerence energy can be wildly stimulating for you, but it isn’t contagious. Be realistic about how your new enthusiasm impacts on your husband, who hasn’t had any of the emotional high that you’re riding on.
Does your husband know what’s at stake?
A familiar lament among abandoned spouses is “I had no idea they were so unhappy”. Sometimes this is willful blindness of course, but there does seem to be a surprisingly prevalent belief among unhappy spouses that a good partner should be attuned to their psychic distress through empathic sensitivity.
It’s striking how many couples who split up have this dynamic: one of them reports having laboriously, single-handedly tried to save the relationship, while the other was blithely unaware of their efforts or how serious the jeopardy was.
Going back to the importance of open communication, it’s generally better to express your feelings unambiguously. You need to be clear that this isn’t just temporary restlessness, or a kind of free-floating discontent, but a serious threat to the future of the relationship that has to be addressed by both of you.
Your husband may continue to stonewall or argue or avoid the issue, but at least you’ll know that you laid it all out as clearly as you could. Alternatively, you might discover that he is also unhappy with the status quo, but doesn’t know what to do about it, and is actually in the same state of “coasting” that tripped you up when an LO appeared.
That might be an important first step in both of you recognising the problem and finding a way to transform your lives.
What do you expect from a partner?
Limerence is largely built on fantasy. The LO seems amazing – just by being with them you get a thrill of euphoria. They seem to light something up inside of you and make you feel good just by their inherent magnificence. But as I’ve said before, all those emotions are generated within you as a result of your own personal history sparking off their limerent cues, they aren’t gifted to you by LO.
A consequence of this reality is that, once the limerence passes, LO will lose their magical powers of enchantment. If you are fortunate, the deep love of bonding will replace the fireworks of limerence and keep the positive connection alive, but it’s just as likely that when LO loses their lustre, they turn out to be just as ordinary as everybody else.
That moment is critical for a limerent’s future. Do you accept that the firework show is over, and that it’s time to decide whether the fundamentals are strong enough to build a long-term relationship together, or do you seek a new limerent object to reignite the emotional extravaganza?
Fundamentally, other people can’t fix deep-rooted dissatisfactions for you. Right now, LO seems like an escape from domestic obligations, but life with them would inevitably have its own disappointments and burdens. You definitely want a partner who is good for you – supportive, loving, attractive – but it’s a hollow life to depend on someone else to supply your energy, enthusiasm and joie de vivre.
Your husband isn’t letting you down by being himself. You may not be compatible in the long run, but nobody is able to meet the shifting emotional needs of their partner effortlessly and automatically. It takes work and a willingness to compromise to navigate the choppy waters of married life.
Hopefully those questions provoke useful thoughts, but to end with a more straightforward suggestion: the best place to start is self-honesty. What do you really want from life? What are your expectations of marriage? Can you clarify exactly what your values, goals and romantic needs are, and do you think they are compatible with your husbands hopes and needs?
Once you have that straight for yourself, it’s much easier to communicate clearly when the time comes to address the issues with him.
“but my husband is quiet, shy, never wants to go out of the house and has no ambitions or even hobbies…I feel like the limerence has made me see how little my husband and I have in common.”
I have a freind who I do a fair of amount of things with, and one day I asked what she and her husband do together. The short answer: not much. They don’t even have shows they watch together. He’s very introverted and maybe socializes with his friends a couple of times a year, if that. That’s all he needs in terms of socialization. I don’t think she’s super extroverted, but she has much a stronger need for socialization and his introversion, I think, was making her feel claustrophobic. She has gone out and joined groups and made friends and does things without him. Is that something you could do?
I think you have to ask yourself: What do you want your life to look like, and is that a reasonable expectation of your husband? If not, can you maybe build the life you want on your own and be ok with your connection with him?
Allie 1 says
I agree Marcia. Two people can have a good connection yet be quite different in terms of interests and proclivities. I am more introverted than my SO so love my alone time. He respects that. We have separate groups of friends and mostly go out without the other at a frequency that suits each of us. We occasionally socialise together but never force that on each other. We don’t watch much TV together as have different tastes, and we have our own cometely different passions in life. But we share a family, a home, our values and a vision of a life together that is supportive yet still very much as independent individuals. Works for us I think.
“That’s all he needs in terms of socialization. I don’t think she’s super extroverted, but she has much a stronger need for socialization and his introversion, I think, was making her feel claustrophobic.”
Marcia, I wonder how many married couples unexpectedly find themselves in this particular boat?
From what I’ve observed and/or read, there seems to be an awful lot of “vibrant” women out there who are married to “good but dull” men, if you’ll forgive such a blunt characterisation.
I feel these couples marry with the best of intentions, have a shared life together, and may have even been genuinely “in love” when they married. So far, so good. So what’s the problem?
The problem, to my mind, seems to be that the “vibrant” woman was hoping she would gain a profoundly satisfying and ongoing sense of companionship from marriage, and that the husband would provide said companionship. However, the average introverted male probably struggles to give his wife the kind of daily, emotionally-charged involvement (emotional intimacy?) she’s looking for…
I actually think most men find female emotionality draining on a purely physical level. The adult male brain readily experiences fatigue while listening to a woman talk about her feelings, no matter how much he cares about said woman. And I say this with absolute sympathy for both the man and the woman in the equation.
In a nutshell, I think women – by virtue of being women – want and need some weird emotional connection and men can’t fathom what this weird emotional connection even is. The man predictably stonewalls. The woman gets frustrated and angry or sometimes depressed, depending on her temperament. Over time, the quality of the marital relationship starts to break down, fights ensue, resentments build up. The woman feels neglected. The man feels attacked. Both parties feel misunderstood. Both parties feel uncared for.
How reasonable is it for a woman to expect emotional intimacy from her husband in the first place? That is the question I’m interested in asking. Can a man even provide his wife with the desired level of emotional connection on a consistent basis? Is this merely an introvert/extrovert dilemma or is this some kind of universal “battle of the sexes” dilemma? Should extrovert women avoid marrying introvert men? Do extrovert men have the same problem with introvert wives?
I suspect that the majority of men and women go into marriage with subtly different definitions of “marriage” in their heads, and they never talk about their subtly different definitions. I.e. a man’s understanding of “a good marriage” is not a woman’s understanding of “a good marriage”, and vice versa. 😉
“That is the question I’m interested in asking. Can a man even provide his wife with the desired level of emotional connection on a consistent basis?”
That is a really tricky, nuanced question. First of all, you’d need to define “emotional connection” or “emotional intimacy,” which will vary from person to person. I have female relatives who I’m sure think we’re very close but I don’t think we’re close at all. I really don’t understand them as people (they’d have to show a certain level of vulnerability, which they never do) and they certainly have made on effort to understand me. It’s all surface talk — movies, weather, pop culture, car insurance rates. There’s a lot of communication but no depth. And these are women.
Secondly, I think what makes a straight man want to commit is the emotional connection he feels with a woman. Society frowns upon him connecting with his male friends and a lot of the men I’ve known (not all) don’t have a strong connection to their extended families or children. They rely emotionally almost exclusively on their female partners. I couldn’t speak to how deep that connection runs.
And thirdly, to really connect with someone, you really have to be a bit selfless. It’s very hard to do. You have to be present for someone and see and hear them outside of yourself. To not interject your own personal experiences (“Oh, that happened to me, too”) or needs in the situation. It takes a high level of emotional evolvement. I’m just understanding this, and I am not young! 🙂 What I’m getting at is that most people aren’t good at high levels of connection.
Those were my initial thoughts on your question.
“It’s all surface talk — movies, weather, pop culture, car insurance rates. There’s a lot of communication but no depth. And these are women.”
Okay, yes. Maybe it’s just us limerents who want to “go deep” all the time. I realise one of my (straight male) LOs would go deep, but only very occasionally, and it was that occasional show of depth that intrigued me. I.e. “Hey, maybe there’s something going on here!” 😉
“They rely emotionally almost exclusively on their female partners. I couldn’t speak to how deep that connection runs.”
I agree the emotional reliance straight men have on female partners is enormous – cannot be understated. Straight men are absolute emotional children around their wives, and I say that with deep affection for the men themselves as well as respect for their (very patient and amused?) female partners.
I actually think most straight men can’t access the emotional part of their brains at all without assistance from their mothers/wives (or possibly some refreshment one could purchase at a pub?). I don’t believe this phenomenon is created by culture. I don’t believe society is stopping straight men from connecting with other straight men, or even gay men. I believe straight men are hampered by their own evolutionary pedigree in the majority of cases. (There are exceptions that prove every rule, of course). I think there is something biological going on. Feminism is not going to solve this one. Nor is therapy. 😉
Think of the male brain as a mansion. Think of the emotional part of the male brain as a suite of rooms in that mansion. Straight man “Adam” can’t access that suite of rooms without “Eve”. Only a mother or a female partner holds the key that unlocks that suite of rooms. Straight men are utterly dependent on women emotionally.
People think it’s mainly sex that brings men and women together, but it’s not. I believe the emotional dependency most men have on their wives and girlfriends outweighs anything that could ever transpire in a bedroom. Emotional dependency is where it’s at.
However, I think this emotional dependency is beyond language. It occurs at some level below conscious awareness, subliminal, preverbal. I had seen young men and women connect with each other in public in this preverbal way, and just been in awe of what was going on. Why? Because I’m super-intelligent, but can’t ever hope to emulate this preverbal, subliminal communication!!
As a gay man, I have always been disappointed that straight men don’t open up to me emotionally. I’m not talking about prospective romantic partners. I’m talking about my own male family members!! However, I think straight men just feel more comfortable talking to females, period. And what the female says doesn’t even matter. The words themselves don’t matter. The comfort, sympathy, empathy, support, whatever … it’s all beyond language.
I have given up trying to have meaningful conversations with straight men. My conversations with straight men these days are limited to silly jokes, exaggerated facial expressions, and friendly hand signals. Basically, I pretend that I’m a mime working at the local circus. Oh, and praise. Straight men love to be praised!! (I’m talking sincere praise for a job well done, not lies or flattery). 😉
I figure if a straight man needs emotional support, he can go to the nearest available female. I mean, he’s going to do that anyway, so I might as well do myself a favour, and get out of his way! 😎
“And thirdly, to really connect with someone, you really have to be a bit selfless. It’s very hard to do. You have to be present for someone and see and hear them outside of yourself.”
Uh-huh. So listening involves dialling down one’s own narcissism I guess? One can’t keep inserting oneself into the picture the other person is painting, eh? My narcissism, when I was younger, certainly damaged my friendships with straight men. I honestly had no idea they weren’t interested in the likes of great French impressionist Monet!!
I kid, I kid on that point. But, yeah, interesting stuff… 😛
(For the record, I absolutely ADORE straight men. I don’t have an anti-male bone in my body. Straight men are wonderful. It just frustrating they need nothing from me. Straight men make me feel redundant as the one biological male in the room who apparently can access his emotions on a whim with external help. I feel like I have an invaluable skill/talent and no one wants to hire me!) 😉
Allie 1 says
Are we talking about emotional connection here or just emotional empathy?
I agree with Marcia in that most people (men or women) are not interested in endlessly listening empathically to someone else talking about their emotions. Even if you are that way inclined, it is tiring to give that type of attention for any period of time. Generally, most people (men and women) prefer to talk about themselves rather than listen.
I have had a mutual emotional connection in all my relationships, and usually, I am the more introverted one. That emotional connection is about mutual give and take, is about caring about each other, about what is going on inside each other. Giving each other a hug when upset. e.g. My SO tells me his work stories when he is frustrated, I patiently listen, empathise and tell him how wonderful and right he is. I tell him my relational difficulties, he listens, gives useless advice (!) and gives me a big hug. The end result is we feel supported and cared for. I don’t think that is too much to expect of each other, so long as it is time limited not constant.
“I agree with Marcia in that most people (men or women) are not interested in endlessly listening empathically to someone else talking about their emotions. Even if you are that way inclined, it is tiring to give that type of attention for any period of time. Generally, most people (men and women) prefer to talk about themselves rather than listen.”
That wasn’t what I meant. Not endlessly being listened. But being listened to and understood. Being really heard and seen. I have not experienced that with a straight man in a relationship, no. And not with very many people in general. Because one almost has to get out of the way to do that. To get themselves out of the way. And that is hard for most people to.
Allie 1 says
“being listened to and understood. Being really heard and seen”
Exactly what I meant too. I call this “listening empathically”.
I think there is something about being in a limerent episode that casts a pall over an existing long-term relationship (and the significant other in that relationship with you). It’s a “chicken or egg” problem: Did I become limerent due to issues in my relationship or does my relationship suddenly appear unsatisfactory because I am limerent for someone else?
Maybe my experience is not the norm, but my limerence predates my relationship with my spouse. It seems obvious to me that my limerence is not the result of anything unsatisfactory in my marriage, because I’ve been limerent for the same person since before I ever met my husband.
I feel the sparkly, lovesick, glimmering limerence for someone who has always been unavailable and would not want to be with me anyway. It is pure fantasy. My limerent object (LO) has been out of my life for decades. My marriage is committed and I would never act on my limerence, certainly not in a way that my husband would consider cheating. But apparently I will never stop pining over my LO.
For me, my situation has made it quite clear that my limerent fantasies are in my head. They are not real. What is real is my relationship and life with my husband. In Zoe’s case, I wonder if her familiar, comfortable, domestic relationship with her husband is only less appealing when compared to sparkly limerent fantasies which are not real, or if there truly is a compatability issue. Because I think either is possible for limerents to experience in a long-term relationship.
J. Argyle says
This, along with your comment in spring, really illustrates the whole cycle as I see it.
1. I love the wild giddiness I feel when I am limerencing. It may be a bit much though.
2. Reality shatters the illusion.
3. I need to work/hold on to the real things i have, rather than getting lost in fantasy.
4. I can’t get over it. Oh well, have to live with it.
Allie 1 says
Beautifully succinct and utterly true!
“1. I love the wild giddiness I feel when I am limerencing. It may be a bit much though.”
I’m loving the fact you’re using limerence as a verb here!! “Limerencing” does have a certain ring to it. I think it might just catch on… 😎
I have definitely been in a state of limerence since May/June 2020. This website has been a lifesaver- and that is no exaggeration. I am married and my best defense with my LO is no contact. I have relapses, but I feel like I am finally getting over it. Do you have any thoughts on how the pandemic may have stirred things up for those of us who have limerent tendencies? I have to go back another 25 years to when this happened to me before, and then another 10 years before that. But all three times have been soul crushing and debilitating. I feel that the pandemic (I’m also in healthcare) made me want to escape through some alternate universe and I’m still paying the price for that.
Allie 1 says
Great article DrL… just re-reading this and very much agree with it all.
I think so often when married people suffer general life dissatisfaction, such as that caused by an LE, we turn towards our relationship as a root cause. I have been totally guilty of that in the past. And yes, when you have been together for a long while, the relationship often as not won’t provide the excitement, passion and/or life purpose that it once did. I have come to realise that it is a mistake to expect any relationship to fulfil you, provide a social life, purpose, passion, a sole companion, hobby partner, etc. We must find much of that “out there” for ourselves. My hope is that by being a more self sufficient, rounded, purposeful and happy individual, I can consider what I can bring into my marriage, rather than what my marriage fails to provide me.
“I’m not happy, but I can’t tell him why not or what caused it.”
Not true. You CAN tell him, but you prefer keeping him in the dark so you can yank him around and hold all the power as long as he wants to be married to you.
Maybe he’ll decide to drop the rope and go live a better life.
This sounds like it comes from a place of such hurt. I’m sorry if somebody hurt you. My heart goes out to you. ❤️
“ You definitely want a partner who is good for you – supportive, loving, attractive…”
I want to question that statement purely for a selfish point of view.
The attractive part.
Realistically how long can attraction last in a committed relationship?
I think outside of LE, I do have a better acceptance for not feeling attraction,
And love for SO.
BUT in LE, it’s like the man with the golden gun, the one shot to end this committed relationship being, LO is way better than my SO looks wise.
I try to challenge my thoughts around this that any new potential match is bound to be more attractive at first and surely I have to come to terms with attraction fading over time.
Or am I just kidding myself and it really is the backbone of any lasting relationship, that you never stop having those feelings for your SO.
I’m new here, and about 40% of the way through the advanced deprogramming course. Trying desperately to get over an LO who, although I don’t think was mutually limerant, definitely reciprocated my declaration and then played hot and cold for months. Finally we were physically intimate (once) before he ‘changed his mind’ the next day but didn’t really say as much, just withdrew and hoped I got the hint until I “chased” him down to find out what I did wrong and then he was brutally cold on a 2 minute phone call. Won’t go into details but suffice to say, I’m pretty clear where my LE stemmed from: my husband has not kissed me (physically pulls away if I try), let alone had sex with me, for over 8 years. I’ve tried desperately to get him to therapy for many years, and after sinking into a deep depression (suicidal) in the wake of the “break up” with LO, he finally has agreed. He “only
did so when it became clear what a crisis our marriage is in and I made clear that I can’t go on. Finding this site has been a literal life-saver. Thank you, Dr. L, and to all the commenters here. I need to get on to the forum.
I am suffering my 4th chance of my limerence coming to a head. LO is family and works in our house. I start off in control and enjoying friendship but end up freaking out and scaring her by reacting to my own moral conflict in my mind. This time it is clear that friendship will not work. It is very very sad but my mind believes I love her. SO loves me very very much and reacts more calmly with each breach over the past 2 years- she warns ” fix yourself or leave”. LO gave notice to leave , but found she really wants to stay and continue the important work that our family needs. This is important. So I am continuing another round of not being around during work hrs. Last round, I would come home from and stay in the basement until SO arrived home to relieve her. I eventually worked out to behave myself and take over so she could leave and SO could be late when needed. This was hard because I would hear her voice upstairs and become very depressed and agitated -felt like not living anymore. I was probably put on notice by my therapist to not be allowed to purchase firearms. I ended up doing group DBT and it was therapeutic to Zoom with other people working through their own problems. This site is very important! I looked up infatuation early on and found that Limerence was dead on. I had been forced to face Alcohol addiction and finally come out the other end without desiring it at all 15ish years ago. I never had such life altering overpowering feelings as I have with this addiction. I am forced finally, to face up to whatever emptiness I have in my life that keeps me so unhappy much of my life. I have connected with Dr L briefly in the past. but am reaching out-uncomfortably- now to people who know what I am going through as I am battling hopelessness regularly.
Hi L, it sounds like you struggle with addiction. I find that I have an obsessive personality, too. Now that I realize I will be obsessed about something, I try to channel that energy into a worthwhile activity. Right now I am obsessed with running. It really helps take my mind off of other things. I would encourage you to seek a hobby or anything healthful that you can obsess over rather than your LO. You will probably still be limerent, but at least some of that energy can go to something useful. Spending time with friends helps a lot, too.
Hi Lovisa, Thank you. I hope to get back there. Right now trying to get into therapy and re-learn some coping skills just to stay alive. but my heart appreciates your concern.