One of the commonest situations where limerence becomes a destructive force in life is when it happens within the confines of a marriage. Unsurprisingly, I’ve written about this scenario many times in the past, but it is still the commonest problem raised in my email inbox by some margin.
Sometimes the issues are simple. Serial cheaters, abusive, dismissive, or secretive limerents will carry on in their selfish ways and the beleaguered spouse just has to decide how much more they are willing to tolerate before they free themselves. Sometimes the issues are more nuanced, and the spouse feels that their limerent partner has undergone a period of temporary madness and may be reachable if and when it passes. I’m not going to cover those problems today. Instead, I want to focus on the best case scenario (which is nevertheless still challenging): a limerent who wants to stop the limerence and repair the damage they have caused.
Given my own experience, I have tended to favour the limerent perspective on this issue. A principal goal of the blog has been trying to constructively help married limerents make sense of what is happening to them, how to take back control of their mental state, and how to make better, more purposeful decisions about the future.
A guiding philosophy for succeeding in this aim is that limerence in a marriage is a problem that must be jointly solved – at least in those cases where the limerent has not been able to manage it themselves and so has chosen to disclose and bring their spouse into the decision-making process. I conceptualise this as a decisive mental reframing from “How do I choose?” to “Us against the problem.”
I am aware, though, that this is still a bit navel-gazing, and centred on the concerns and problems of the limerent. It’s a lot more constructive than them brooding alone and becoming more distant and distracted, but it is also focused on solving the limerent’s problems. Clearly any lasting and meaningful resolution to the damage caused by limerence in the marriage also needs to solve the problems of the spouse.
To achieve this goal, limerent and spouse need to understand each other. That requires mutual respect, honest communication, and emotional forbearance. It is hard to really hear someone else when you are in emotional turmoil and existential discomfort. It also requires a lot of trust at a time when trust has been shaken.
These difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that limerence is an altered state of mind based on seeking reward with demented intensity – not exactly the perfect conditions for empathy. Even if the limerent has intellectually resolved to honour their vows and recommit to their spouse, it is hard to not make themselves the centre of a romantic drama, because the symptoms of limerence are so extraordinary and domestic life seems plain by comparison.
There are other disparities. The limerent has usually been thinking about the situation for an extended period – and limerents can really think about their LO – by the time their spouse is appraised of the problem. The spouse will then be playing an unpleasant game of panicked catch-up in the period after disclosure. It’s unreasonable to assume they will be able to think rationally or calmly.
All this means that mentally putting yourself into your spouse’s position will be really difficult and take concerted effort and patience.
All marriages need work. It’s sort of a truism that limerence is unlikely to ensnare you if you are blissfully content in marriage and life, but of course that’s a ridiculous standard to expect. Mostly, the stories I hear about the prior state of a marriage before limerence strikes are something along the lines of:
I was mostly happy, but also a bit stressed, and things were OK, but there were a few problems that we kind of ignored because they were unpleasant to contemplate, and anyway we were too busy to sit down for a Deep and Meaningful conversation that probably would end in an argument. I figured I was overreacting anyway and that it’d probably work out, and then I accidentally fell in love with my boss.
Benign neglect of romance is a normal and predictable consequence of marriage. When a marriage is rocked by limerence it is inevitable that imperfections and faults will be found for the looking. Usually, though, these problems are only retrospectively identified. The marriage – and the conduct of both partners – are scrutinised after the emotional dislocation of limerence has occurred. This leads to a lot of editorialising and the maddening phenomenon of rewriting history.
One of the big dangers in trying to mutually resolve the limerence problem is that the spouse is desperately trying to regain some control over the situation and their lives, and so opens themselves up to the possibility that by changing their behaviour – by becoming a better partner – they can fix the problem. Limerents are motivated to go along with this narrative because it salves their conscience about their own conduct. It’s a trap. It’s deferring a true reckoning into the future to try and gain some short-term relief.
It will take work to recover and improve a marriage after limerence, but that work has to be based on a foundation of honesty. You won’t get there unless the spouse is also able to list their disappointments, resentments, broken dreams and thwarted desires too. That’s what “partner” means.
Call for feedback
This rambling catalogue of the problems of how to deal with limerence in a marriage does have a point. I’m pretty immersed in the limerent perspective on how to recover and improve a marriage after limerence, but biased by my personal experience about what the most pressing problems and anxieties are for the spouse. I have a one-sided understanding of what needs to be done to repair the damage
I’ve learned over time that the best way to understand things beyond my own perspective, is to ask for help. My struggle in trying to head-hop into the mind of a spouse can be overcome by listening instead of imagining.
So, for any readers who have been through this pain from the spouse’s perspective, I would really value your perspective on what it was like to be put into that position by a limerent partner. I’m hoping that it is possible to scale the process of mutual understanding from the specifics of individual marriages to some general principles that can help the whole community. To both reassure spouses that there are ways for getting through it, and to help limerents understand that it is not all about them.
If you’d like to help, please either comment below or message me direct (in confidence) through the contact form. I’d appreciate all the feedback I can get.