Some of the most upsetting emails that arrive in my inbox are from spouses who have had their marriage collapse from under them because their husband or wife has become limerent for someone else. At the extreme end of this phenomenon are the full-on crisis cases, where the limerent has emptied the family bank account and sent it to an online (or real life) scammer as a show of devotion, or desperate attempt to keep their limerent supply coming. Thankfully, those cases are relatively rare; far more common are the spouses who have had to cope with their previously supportive partner suddenly becoming not just distant, but nasty. Often this is blamed on the shortcomings of the spouse, because (of course) the numinous wonder of limerence must be divinely ordained and therefore Right, which means (in the dopamine-addled mind of someone deeply immersed in limerence) that the marriage must be Wrong.
This offends my sense of justice.
Spurred on by righteous indignation, I’ve spent some time trying to figure out what can constructively be done to communicate with someone in the thick of limerence. I’ve now put together a “Quickstart guide” on this topic, called Anxiety to Action, which can be downloaded via email by signing up here.
As this topic has been on my mind a lot of late, I thought I’d also ruminate out loud about it a bit.
If I look back on my own experience, it was me that opened the lines of communication. I disclosed to my wife after realising that I had lost control of the situation, in a conscious attempt to get her help in undoing the damage I had already done. I’m not saying I handled this brilliantly – there were times when I gushed about LO, and times when I tried to provoke jealousy in my wife (in some sort of misguided attempt to get proof that she still desired me romantically), and times when we both ended up in tears – but the central point was that, as the limerent, I was not resistant to communication.
It’s obviously more challenging when the limerent does not want to talk about it. Sometimes, this can be total stonewalling – refusing to discuss things, being brazenly disrespectful to their spouse, and behaving as though the marriage is an inconvenience they can barely tolerate. A similar but less destructive state is the limerent who has shut down emotionally. They are not aggressive, but have mentally disconnected from the marriage, and are not inclined to communicate, mediate, or bargain. Less serious, but also distressing, is the passive limerent, who is sorry about What Has Happened (passive voice), feels powerless to change their behaviour, and acts as though this is something that just came to pass.
In almost every case, though, a key problem for the spouse is that they get mugged by the revelation that their partner is limerent. However they find out, they suddenly learn – out of the blue – that their marriage is not as stable as they thought. That’s their day 1. In contrast, the limerent has been aware of this for weeks or months. Months of thinking about LO, deepening the connection to LO, analysing their marriage (from a highly biased perspective), maybe even confiding in LO about it. The spouse is trying to process new information, whereas the limerent is miles ahead and has probably reached some firm conclusions about whether or not they want the marriage to survive. That’s a massive asymmetry.
I’ve got a gut feeling that this asymmetry is a critical issue. It puts the spouse on the back foot and means they are trying to catch up, which adds to the sense of disorientation and anxiety. Although the guide has a ten step strategy for breaking through the communication deadlock, there’s one other step that I suspect would help: reframe the situation for the limerent.
As a general principle anyone in the spouse’s position should avoid manipulation as a tactic. It might work in the short term, but in the long term it just proves that your limerent spouse is prone to manipulation, which will make you respect them even less. Plus, you could also damage your own integrity in the rush to get back a sense of control.
So, this is not a manipulation tactic, but it is a deliberate step to assert your own autonomy and agency. The limerent has been looking at this from the perspective of their being the centre of the drama that’s playing out. They are the one considering options, and judging the state of the marriage. Now it’s your turn, and your limerent spouse needs to get a taste of what it feels like to suddenly learn that their worldview has a massive blindspot in it. They need a nice shock of cold water to remind themselves that you are not a sidekick in the movie of their life.
Here are a few possibilities for assertive reframes for spouses to consider applying to limerents that are openly pursuing their LO and devaluing their marriage:
- Make it clear that you need to discuss the situation with someone, and if they keep stonewalling you will seek support elsewhere
- Take on an individual counsellor for yourself and make clear that the family budget will have to be adjusted to cover it
- Point out that you need to plan for how finances will be resolved in the case of divorce
- Ask if they have given consideration to custody of children in the case of divorce
- Ask when the issue of their failing commitment to the family will need to be raised with your children
- If they are limerent for a co-worker, ask what their plan is if they are fired for misconduct
- Consult a divorce attorney (and discuss the possible outcomes that were raised with your limerent spouse)
Now these are fairly direct and confrontational suggestions, and have the potential to provoke strong emotions, so don’t take them lightly – and certainly not in a spirit of revenge, or in an attempt to precipitate a crisis (unless you want that). The principle, though, is precisely to provoke that strong reaction, and make the limerent recognise that they are not the only person with decision-making powers. In keeping with the guiding philosophy of this site: life goes better if you strive to live purposefully. Focus on your needs, your own sense of self, and what you can do to improve your own situation. What kind of marriage do you want? Aim to be proactive rather than reactive (i.e. make your own positive choices rather than responding frantically to their negative choices), and find a narrative that you are comfortable with.
By finding the strength of character to take purposeful action when you feel betrayed and anxious, you not only give yourself the best chance of navigating the trauma successfully, you also stand a better chance of snapping your limerent spouse out of their complacency.
So take some time to think about ways that you could constructively reframe your spouse’s perspective.
And finally, in the spirit of helping the folks out there who are in this situation – how about us limerents share in the comments the moments that shook us out of our self-involved ruts, to stimulate some more ideas?
I’ll start the ball rolling: for me, it was the time my wife casually said “if we stay married” in the midst of a conversation about how I should handle interactions with LO. That was a shot of adrenaline I needed to really commit to the recovery plan.
My situation is what I consider a mild case in comparison to the post. I have limited interaction with my LO so my thoughts may be of more help to those who aren’t too far gone on the limerence train wreck, or those that do not have much of a relationship with their LO and still have the ability to apply logic.
Since I have not discussed my situation with my SO (or much with anyone else) I have had to rely on splitting my thinking into two perspectives. One is the limerent fantasy state, and the other is the hard facts of reality. When I have an interaction with LO I evaluate it from both perspectives and force myself to focus on the hard facts, which mostly means I don’t actually have any facts that prove anything solid about my LO or his feelings for me. Then I add a third perspective, which is a list of all the reasons I know that my SO loves me. One of the main things that I tell myself is that my LO is not aware of a single significant event that has happened to me since I have met him. He basically knows nothing about me, and I can’t be sure of what I have evaluated about him. I constantly remind myself that his character is a figment of my imagination and I also recreate myself to be someone else while limerent so neither one of us is an accurate portrayal of who we really are.
I want to emphasize that my SO has been the one to put up with my attitude through the rough stages of the last year and his tolerance is proof that he is the real lover in my life even if he doesn’t provide all the fantasy thrills and we bicker. When I ask myself what his motivations are in doing things that may initially annoy me I realize his methods may seem insensitive but what he wants is for me to feel confident, be content, be happy etc. It is not productive to make the SO the villain for the convenience of living a false reality and being tortured by a seriously questionable future with an LO.
“One of the main things that I tell myself is that my LO is not aware of a single significant event that has happened to me since I have met him. He basically knows nothing about me, and I can’t be sure of what I have evaluated about him. I constantly remind myself that his character is a figment of my imagination and I also recreate myself to be someone else while limerent so neither one of us is an accurate portrayal of who we really are.”
Wow – even though you describe your limerence as a “mild” case, and mine has been lifelong, what you described here is so accurate and has been helpful for me to remember in my situation as well. It’s amazing how much our brains will try to “trick” us into believing what truth is. It’s a positive “step up” when we can logically remember that the whole thing is just an escape from reality.
You are right! Escapism was what put me into this particular situation, and fortunately I realized that fairly early with this LE. I have had other limerent experiences where the motivation was seeking a better relationship and I evaluated whether this time was the same, but I came to the conclusion that my relationship with my SO had truly changed for the better six years ago. I guess maybe that was the craziest part. I was risking ruining something good because someone else MIGHT find me attractive (mid-life crisis) and I wanted the attention. The part I have the hardest time dealing with is that I am a logical, reasonable, responsible person with a conscience and when limerent I have this other side that rationalizes things that should not be rationalized. It is like there is a dual life going on even when there isn’t anything going on with the LO. I described it as a mild case because of the minuscule contact that I have with the LO compared to people who actually have some sort of relationship with their LO or have a significant amount of contact. I count it as a blessing that I have never had the opportunity to deepen this “bond” that I tell myself that I sense. But I was pretty far gone mentally and was wondering if I would have to go into therapy. Then I found this site and felt I had found my tribe of co-crazies! What a relief! Another thing that helped me was when my LO seemed to be flirting with me (a lot of eye contact) I realized I had no idea what his intentions were, what he expected, whether he was on an ego trip, or if he was crazy, and it really scared me when I realized someone else could witness these exchanges between us and start rumors that my SO would hear. I did not want to put my SO through that doubt.
I love that you described all of us as your tribe of co-crazies!! Lol!! That’s what we are, aren’t we – haha! 🙂
I would also describe myself as logical, reasonable, responsible and someone with a conscience, which is what makes the whole situation “crazy” and so frustrating! I’ve been married for 33 years and love my husband dearly, which makes all of this so mind boggling. During my recent LE (actually my 2nd, 17 years between them with the same person – who happened to be my high school sweetheart) I was fully aware that it was illogical, would not end well, and he was not someone I would probably be happy with in “real life”. I truly was living a dual life, trying to recapture old feelings, which was exciting (and addicting) for a while but slowly began to rob me of joy in my present life. I’m currently doing the emergency deprogramming course and it has been SO helpful and truly amazing.
I’m thankful for you as well that your bond with your LO was not deeper and you were able to get a handle on it.
Being able to share thoughts and experiences with others is also pretty comforting. 🙂
Well said. This is pretty much what I’ve been going through and how I deal with it day to day. I remind myself that LO doesn’t know and would be disturbed to find out. I also remind myself this is a person who would never care about me like my SO does; not in a million years.
“Ask if they have given consideration to custody of children in the case of divorce”
INSIST that they take the children into consideration and that they aren’t life-accessories that can be dismissed. 50% physical custody or more. Sure it will cost some child support but it provides SO’s with opportunities too. Limerents and certainly fully-participant LO’s aren’t interested in hostile glares over the corn flakes but that is life.
Mr. Lee also realized that if he skipped away to The Land of Limerence that our kids were not likely to think highly of his actions.
My Limerent Brain is An Idiot says
For me, the frustrating thing about my limerence experience was that I am fully committed to my SO, and I will never leave her.
My ‘wake-up call’ was when I realized I was feeling romantic feelings towards my LO, and I was not able to dismiss those thoughts easily. I’m used to just enjoying my own internal thought life, and analyzing situations, and contemplating future courses of positive action.
When thoughts of my LO started appearing unbidden in my brain every 20 minutes or so, I got desperate and googled, “How to fall out of love” because to me, limerence felt like romantic love.
When I read the definition of limerence, it distressed and relieved me at the same time. Distress because I realized it wasn’t going to be easy to get away from this circumstance. Relief because it was a known condition and I wasn’t stuck on an island of stupidity alone.
There were many others with idiot limerent brains! What a relief.
Every 20 minutes sounds pretty tame ;). To me it often feels like every 2 minutes (but I do have obsessive tendencies and intrusive thoughts, limerent or not).
Unfortunately, it was the same way for me, M. I never thought that kind of frequency would ever end.
I never fully disclosed to SO because every time I thought “how do I explain these unusually powerful and unique feelings to SO”, I had no idea where that conversation would lead. Though a couple of weeks into limerence, I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO address what was happening to me. I was almost completely non-functional, uncontrollable crying at times. I told my wife that I was upset that LO would be leaving work, but more along the lines of the circumstances of how she was leaving (there was some truth to this). I know this puzzled my wife to some extent. In hindsight, this was the time where (full) disclosure could have happened, but because I had all of these unfamiliar, very personal emotions, I was scared to death. How could this come out and not have it look like I was in love with someone else? Was I?
Had I understood limerence at the time, I would have been much better armed with some clue as to what was happening to me. But I felt embarrassed and completely vulnerable, and honestly, I might have ultimately still tried to attack limerence in isolation. As more time passed, and I fell deeper into limerence, I felt I moved further and further away from the possibility of disclosure. My normally logical self was somewhere else. I feel fortunate to be where I am now, 2 years later, still limerent (though much less so), but quite aware.
Thank you for sharing! This inside view of your experience is so helpful for me as the spouse of a limerent.
I also googled how to fall out of love and had the same revelation when finding the definition of limerence.
I was glad to find out that it was my brain messing with me, and that I am not the only one that feels that way.
For me a turning point was when SO started to care about me again by simply asking where I was after work (and not in a jealous controlling way but actually noticing that I went somewhere – I was at the hairdresser for example or met a friend for a drink, etc.) or what time I would come home, or asking how my day was, actually replying to a text message I sent him asking a simple question, as opposed to being completely indifferent, sitting on the sofa, watching tv and not seem to even notice that I actually came home and am around (I usually didn’t even get a hello, nothing). We seem to have co-existed for some time, where I felt that I didn’t even exist for SO. I took care of the kids and coordinated with the nanny. He’d often ask if it was important if I started a conversation with him, if he really needed to know (aka, if I have solved the issue already, why do I even tell him about). So it was nice to feel like he actually cared again and “saw” me again.
I did the same, and am part of the club…
I bet I call myself an idiot every time I journal about limerence so I can really relate to the name “My Limerent Brain is an Idiot”.
I think the first thing that woke me up to how entrenched I was becoming was when I realized I was getting annoyed when my SO would interrupt my fantasies of LO. This would usually happen WHILE MY SO WAS DOING SOMETHING LOVING FOR ME. My SO was being totally unselfish while I was totally selfish thinking about someone else! It made me wonder what level of insanity I was heading for and if I would ever recover.
The romantic scenarios we think about are not what makes up the vast majority of time in a relationship. Maybe a tactic that would work for the SO to jolt the limerent mate would be to ask worst case scenario questions about how they think their LO would deal with things. Maybe it would help to jog their memory on experiences that strengthened the relationship, or at least didn’t destroy it. Maybe the limerent mate will realize they don’t know the answers about how their LO would deal and the unknown will scare them.
A key to conquering the limerent addiction is being in love with real love- what we do for each other in the hard times- and knowing that “romantic feelings” lack longevity and depth. Remind the limerent of the deeper bond and how it developed.
Ouch. That’s a good one.
About a decade ago, when I didn’t know if I would stay married but prior to encountering LO #4 and working with a therapist, I was sitting in church at the Xmas candlelight service with my wife and kids. I started thinking about LO #2 and wondering why it hadn’t worked for us back then.
Tears started welling up in my eyes. My wife asked what was wrong. I told her I was thinking about my parents. I lied to my wife in church on Xmas Eve. How lame is that?
I’m 46, been married for 20 years with 2 kids, and had my first LE this year.
I was lucky to catch this early-thanks to this site!-recognizing the signs of limerence before I could do thing that I would regret.
My tipping point was brought about by LO rather than SO!
LO is a professional musician who happens (well…happened, because NC) to be my teacher. He suggested we work on a musical project together. Although that sounded thrilling at first, I quickly realized that I would be playing with fire if I was to go ahead with said project.
The funny thing is, SO wasn’t against the idea! I had to tell him that I wasn’t indifferent to LO’s charms (what an understatement!) and that, since I intended to stay married and faithful, I would decline the offer.
SO reacted surprisingly well. He wasn’t pleased, but he remained calm and understanding.
It’s been 4 months since that incident, SO and I are doing fine, we still see LO and his wife now and then (she is charming). I still have warm feelings for LO but I refuse to spend time alone with him. He hasn’t brought up his project again and I hope he never will.
Wow Nat, that’s a very inspiring story. You’ve been very strong to resist it. You took the right decisions with integrity and purpose. I don’t know if I would have managed to act like you did.
Nat, you are the poster child for managing limerence! I am really impressed and have so much respect for you and your integrity! You made the wise choice which ultimately will contribute to authentic happiness!
1. you recognized the ‘glimmer’.
2. you disclosed to SO in a way that reinforced your loyalty to him.
3. you took decisive action.
4. you have continued to maintain boundaries with LO.
Thanks for your support guys:-) Honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve handled it if I hadn’t found this site. Dr L saved the day for me.
I cannot say it’s easy. LO still comes up in my dreams. And I’m still trying to pinpoint what is it exactly that made me fall this hard for him, as I am not easily impressed normally.
I looove the idea of living with purpose as an antidote for limerence… but I really feel like I was living purposefuly before meeting LO ! I guess I was craving validation and emotional connection (aren’t we all), but it’s not like I was emotionaly deprived either.
Anyone feels the same way? Like you were perfectly happy before the LE and felt like you didn’t need anything ? And then bang, LO shows up and challenges that belief ?
Ditto Nat! I was/am happy – my life is good and my marriage is happy and secure. Neither was perfect of course but I was content with my lot.
My feelings came as a complete surprise to me and I was not seeking this at all. 1.5 years after I started working with boss LO, I came to a sudden realisation that I had these powerful feelings for him. A year of LE later, even though our relationship remains completely professional, I feel like life would not be as good without my LO in it.
I am not easily impressed by men either as I have a lovely SO whom very few men can compete with in my eyes. I think my LE grew from a mutually supportive working relationship and his ability to both challenge me and make me feel safe & cared for in equal measure. Plus he has many qualities I really like…sigh.
I am working on making some small changes to make life even better fore the reason that introducing more novelty distracts me from LE, and not really because there was anything wrong with my life to start with.
Wishing you well.
I have questions…. If I may ask. My wife began an emotional affair last year while battling colorectal cancer. Sometime this year it evolved into a physical affair as well. This wasn’t her first affair, or second but i thought we had made progress. I had just lost my mother to cancer Dec. 24th 2019 and she her mother to covid March 6th if this year. Sometime afterwards she began the physical affair. I found out the beginning of July. I was initially ver angry as ND gave ultimatum to stay and gi to counseling or to leave within 30 days. We’ve been together for 18 years. She has moved out as ND has been staying with a friend. Initially she said she needed space and wanted me to take space. Her family (father) says she still loves me and to fight fir our marriage. Her best friend has point blank asked her if she doesn’t see a future in us to tell me her reply is consistently no I can still see a future. The lo is younger unemployed and stays with his mamma. What can I do t I break the hold of the lo on my spouse?
Hi Robert. Sorry to hear what you are going through. Quite a pile of emotional pain weighing on you…
Unfortunately, I’m probably not going to make you feel very optimistic in my reply. Bluntly, I don’t think there is anything you can do to break the hold of LO on your spouse, by yourself. Your wife has to be on board with wanting to recover. Unfortunately, from what you say, she has a history of serial infidelity. That’s not an encouraging starting point. It suggests that she is in the habit of indulging in romantic/sexual adventures when they arise, and then seeking your forgiveness if she is found out. It could be that she is prone to limerence, but that really isn’t much of an excuse for behaving so callously.
My advice to spouses who have been betrayed is to focus on themselves. You are not likely to get any emotional support from your wife, so need to look to yourself, and to friends and family you trust to figure out what you want. Is this the kind of marriage that you want to continue with? What are your own goals and ambitions? You cannot fix this problem by yourself, but you can instead think deeply about your own emotional life and how you would like your future to be. Can you imagine a purposeful future that you would like to live? Is she in it?
I have a free e-book you can download called “Anxiety to Action” if you haven’t already seen it (box in the sidebar). That also goes into depth on how to communicate effectively with a checked-out spouse. It may help.
Good luck and best wishes.
Hi Robert, I hope things have improved for you. May I suggest that you check out Marriage Helper on YouTube? They have many helpful videos. I discovered them while running from my own limerence. Something they talk about that I think might help you is “SMART contact” and working on your “PIES”. As a limerent, I see how those two things would be very helpful tools for the SO.
Also, if you can, you might try getting curious about your wife. Have conversations where you are fully present. It sounds like she is seeking attention. The unemployed LO is probably available to give her a lot of attention.
Roughly a year ago I found my spouse flirting with her LO online, this was 2 years after I had an emotional affair, I told her at the time to stop talking to him or to move out. She moved out, she pursued the LO and he eventually blew her off 6 weeks later and she spiraled and came back to myself and our two sons, we had a good few months, then it started spiraling with her constantly thinking of him and reaching out to him and he did not respond, 14 months later, the day after she told our therapist she loved me and we were still trying, he reached out to her and she broke up with me the next day so she could go out with him, now 6 weeks later we are signing divorce papers. This is going to create massive havoc with our finances and our family, I of course only discovered Limerence recently and have been reading about it. The LO is (in her mind) everything I am not, he can do no evil. She has never really loved me. Pretty much every classic Limerent trait there is. I am 46, she is 44, he is 49. He likes to go to Raves and listen to EDM and dance and because I do none of that I am neglecting her.
All I am doing at this point is going through with the divorce and trying to protect my finances and the children.
14 year marriage dead due to an LO that seems to be playing games.
Limerence Victim – any updates? Unfortunately I had the same thing happened to me. Word for word other then she said that she is with her twin Flame 🔥
I am on the same boat with my H. Any updates?