One of the hardest aspects of limerence to live with is developing limerence when in long-term relationship. If it’s hard for the limerent, it’s even worse for the significant other. If you are the significant other, it can be very hard to deal with the apparent change in personality and behaviour of your limerent partner, not to mention the gut-punch to your self-esteem of watching your loved one become infatuated with someone else. Like many people, I’ve been on both sides of this equation. Being the SO is worst.
However! Hope is not lost. With knowledge about limerence and its root causes and typical patterns of development, purposeful steps can be taken to respond to the emotional crisis.
1) Self care
An unfortunate truth about limerence, is that your limerent SO is not likely to be focussed on your emotional needs. This is especially bad when they have previously been a great source of stability and support. So, the most important thing – more important than trying to solve The Problem – is to care for yourself. Consider confiding in a trusted friend. Consider individual counselling. You are likely to feel broadsided by this, and in your rush to try and save the relationship you risk sidelining your own needs entirely, to try and make your partner happier. Your partner is probably focussing all their attention on their own needs. Focus on your own, and find sources of support for yourself outside of your relationship. But ideally not an LO of your own.
2) Assert your needs clearly
It is reasonable for you to be angry about this. It is reasonable for you to demand boundaries be enforced. It is reasonable for you to receive clear and honest answers about the interactions of your SO with their LO. Only you know what is acceptable to you in terms of the level of emotional intimacy that your partner has with an LO. Some people are sceptical that an emotional affair is even a thing; others consider it a worse betrayal than one-night-stand sex. It’s important to decide what your red lines are, and assert these clearly (but non-aggressively) to your partner. Let them take time to absorb the information. Follow up a few days later with a conversation in which you ask them to express to you what they think your boundaries are. Be clear with yourself about what the consequences will be if they cross your red lines. Ultimatums are only meaningful if enforced. It’s important for your self-respect – and important to communicate to your SO – that you are not willing to accommodate their emotional dithering indefinitely.
3) You are right. They are not “just friends”
If you recognise the symptoms of limerence in your partner, you are almost certainly right that they are not “just friends” with their LO. I have posted before about the improbability of friendship with an LO. If your partner is trying to minimise the significance of their relationship with LO, this is a red flag. Look to point 2. A caring SO, who genuinely does not have feelings for the person you suspect of being an LO, will be motivated to help you cope with your feelings of anxiety. They will not shame you or accuse you of jealousy or being irrationally needy.
4) Do not try to compete with LO
While it is always worthwhile to honestly appraise your relationship, and judge whether you are both giving and receiving intimacy and emotional support, try to avoid the temptation to compete with LO. It may be that your relationship has been neglected. How many of us manage to give our partners the attention they deserve when all the other demands of life steer us into taking them for granted? But you are not going to turn this around by outshining the LO. Once limerence is established, the limerent tends to devalue their SO and idealise the LO. You will not overcome this devaluation by dressing prettier, being more amorous, or being super-supportive. This may cheer your SO up, but is likely to be rather insincere and will still not compare with LO’s promise and novelty. A corollary of this is: don’t flirt with other people to make your partner jealous. It may instead feed into the devaluation and give them an excuse to dump you (on the not unreasonable grounds that you are being disrespectful and manipulative).
If you do come to realise that you have been distant from your partner, then make positive changes in your relationship slowly and purposefully, and in a way that will last – not in a burst of competitive energy that you will come to resent later. The best time for active improvement in your relationship dynamic is after the limerence has passed and your SO has demonstrated their commitment to improving the relationship too.
5) Educate your SO
Direct them here, or to other support sites. Consider buying Tennov’s book. It was a huge benefit to me when I first learned about the concept of limerence (and non-limerence) and it helped me understand myself better and be able to respond more purposefully to limerence when it stirred. Your limerent partner may be highly conflicted and having difficulty understanding their emotional overload. Recognising the causes and cures for limerence could be very valuable for them in getting over their limerence and re-committing to your relationship.
Ultimately, the only thing that will cause your SO to overcome their addiction is time and space. You need to decide how patient you are willing to be, how motivated your SO is to try to overcome their infatuation and focus their attention on your relationship, and how solid your relationship was before the limerent episode invaded. Most of all: be easy on yourself.