Regular readers have probably spotted by now that I’m anti-infidelity.
The problem with infidelity is the betrayal, of course, and not just the sexual betrayal, but the life-undermining destruction of the spouse’s worldview. They thought they were living in a world with a stable primary relationship, a foundation to build on, a place of security to explore from, but actually even that isn’t safe. There’s a monster at home.
Despite this, from time to time I hear from limerents who have crossed the line into a physical affair and don’t know what to do. Who can’t cope. And the funny thing is, they don’t seem monstrous at all.
Occasionally, these are limerents whose affair is deteriorating and they are panicking that their LO is pulling back. For an affair that involved mutual limerence, the LO is leaving phase 2 faster that the limerent. In other cases, it is limerents who bitterly regret the affair and want to work on recovering and revitalising their marriage, or at least, figuring out if they still have a marriage to save.
Now there is a school of thought out there that an affair can strengthen a marriage. The rationale for this seemingly batty position is that marriages often deteriorate because spouses stop communicating with each other, or stop respecting each other, and accumulate a reservoir of petty resentments that they don’t address, which fester until the rot is deep. The affair, it’s argued, is like the bursting of a pustule – the breaking open of an infected wound so that it can be exposed to air and light. OK. To labour the analogy, there are better ways to disinfect a wound, but this does at least carry an element of insight: honest communication is the answer to many relationship problems, and an affair does make it more necessary than ever.
In the interest of being constructive, then, how can some good be salvaged from a very bad situation? When you have stopped the affair and are looking to the future, what can you do?
Well, there’s no magic formula that can get you through this consequence free. It’s too late for that. The only path forward that makes sense to me is to take a good long look at yourself.
If you haven’t yet been caught, the first thing to do is to tell your spouse. There is a case to be made about timing here – say, not on their birthday or a significant anniversary, or if they are having a really tough time at the moment – but don’t delay any longer than you have to. The reason for the urgency is that they will almost certainly find out anyway, and the betrayal is even deeper if they don’t hear it from you.
It’s important to appreciate how destructive infidelity is on the betrayed partner’s psychological health. For the infidel, there is an illusory compartmentalisation. While they have been behaving as though everything is fine, their family life has carried on exactly as before. Their “side activity” is often totally separate in their mind. Something that they do in addition to their marriage. So, surely, if they just stop doing it, then everything goes back to square one? What’s the problem if no-one finds out? In fact, isn’t it more considerate to keep the affair secret to spare their spouse pain?
For the spouse, it’s utterly different. They thought they were living one life, but in fact the person they trust most has been making a fool of them. The affair partner knows a central truth about their marriage that they do not. And this is something that can never be erased entirely. No statute of limitation applies. No matter when your spouse finds out, the discovery will undermine their whole mental model of the world. In a moment, they are confronted with a new reality: they can’t trust you, all their past memories are suspect, all your promises are potential lies, all their future plans are destroyed. What other massive things have you kept from them? Who else is involved in their life that they didn’t choose and don’t know about? What is going to happen to their family? Who do they go to for support now?
It’s not too surprising that people have nervous breakdowns over this.
So: disclose. It will be awful. You really, really, will not want to do it, but it is the absolutely critical first step to stop your spouse from being undermined any further, and turning a corner to a more truthful and upright attitude to life.
A final caveat here: if you think your spouse will behave in a violent or emotionally abusive way to disclosure, then obviously it is not such a great idea. Your best hope then would be to end the abusive relationship, which brings us obliquely to the next point.
2) Analyse what you want from a relationship
A major reason why people are vulnerable to affairs is that they are not living with their spouse as a partner, an equal, the other half of a team of two. One or other partner still, fundamentally, thinks of themselves as a single person who is living with another person at the moment. Now that is a perfectly legitimate way to navigate the world. People with avoidant attachments often do think and act in this way, but it is very important to be honest about this if it is true for you, and not just go along humouring a partner who wants (and thinks they are getting) monogamous commitment. Don’t half-heartedly bond to someone who is fully invested: it will hurt both of you eventually.
Alternatively, it may be that the limerent thought that they wanted a full commitment, but then unexpectedly became limerent for someone else. This can be especially true for people who were limerent for their spouse, and assumed that the strength of the limerence, the desperate craving for closeness, meant they had found their “one”, their soulmate.
Well, that’s the reason why us Marrieds stand up in front of all our friends and family and declare that we will be “forsaking all others”, because the people who devised, revised and finalised the wedding vows were a bit more experienced and realistic about human nature than a lovestruck limerent. Attraction to others is bound to happen in a world full of attractive people.
So the key issue isn’t that you were seduced by the attractions of a new LO – it’s that you were affected enough to override your resolution to be faithful. The point of analysis, then, is: what were you seeking in LO? What desire were they stimulating? Was it novelty? Do you actually rate excitement over stability? Do you not understand your deep drives sufficiently? Or were you not prepared for the strength of temptation that you experienced? Or was it something more profound? Was LO making you realise that your marriage was flawed in some way? Did they offer security when your spouse offers drama? Did they offer excitement and your spouse boredom? Did they push you to grow, while your spouse ran you down?
Without a very clear-eyed view of what you actually want from a relationship, it is unlikely you will ever understand why you strayed and what set of circumstances would make it likely to happen again. It may be that your marriage is not working, and cannot be made to work. Or it may be that you didn’t realise how difficult “forsaking all others, for better or worse” would be. Unless you properly understand what you are seeking in a relationship, you’ll keep guessing and hurting yourself and other people.
3) Analyse what kind of person you want to be
Related to the previous point, but delving a bit deeper. Who are you? It’s tricky to decide what you want out of a relationship until you figure out what you want out of life.
There are lots of good ways to live a life, but they have one thing in common: the way the person lives aligns with their own idea of what a good life means. Most thoughtful people conclude that honesty and integrity make for a much more fulfilling life than deviousness and competition. Certainly plenty of people choose the latter route, but it means a life of near constant conflict. These folks are fine betraying their spouses, and are apparently also fine with keeping this incredibly incendiary lie from them. Is that you? “What other people don’t know can’t hurt them?”
What kind of person do you admire? What kind of person would you like to be? There isn’t a right answer to these questions, but the wrong one is: I want to be this sort of person, but I’ll keep acting like that sort of person.
4) Decide what you want, and live up to it.
So you do the analysis. What next? Easy. Discuss your plans with your spouse.
What kind of relationship do you want, and what kind of relationship do they want? Are your ideas compatible? What kind of person do you want to be, and what kind of person are you actually being? Now is the time for the fulsome and open dialogue that was missing before the affair. And very importantly: listen, and don’t try and minimise what you’ve done or claim that their feelings are unreasonable.
A lot of the decision-making at this stage is out of your hands. Your spouse should be in the driving seat during this “truth and reconciliation” process. You may think that’s unfair, and that your spouse should admit to some responsibility for the deterioration of the marriage. It shouldn’t be all about them and their needs. What if they act selfishly and vindictively? Well… you started it. Time for a bit of humility.
As far as I know, this is the only way to salvage something good from the mess of an affair: for both parties to the marriage to have an open and frank discussion about the future, and whether it involves staying married. If so, you then agree the expectations of both people for what marriage means to them, and what it requires from each of you. That’s the only way to get to the point where you can be the people you want to be, and live the lives you want to live.
Lives that are more purposeful.
When I saw the EAP counselor, one of the first questions she asked was where LO #4 was. I told her she was on the opposite coast. The EAP counselor said that was lucky for me. I told her I agreed with her. I told her that if LO #4 had been accessible, this could be playing out entirely differently. The EAP counselor said I’d caught a break and I should make the most of it.
I never got anywhere close to a physical affair with LO #4 but I understand what a betrayal of trust is in spades. I destroyed all the evidence I have of my association with LOs #2 and #4 because I never want either my wife or my children to ever call into question the trust and faith my wife put into me. My wife was the first person, other than my parents, to ever sacrifice something for me. She took a chance on me after another woman wouldn’t and I can’t betray that. LO #4 got inside my head but I know where my loyalty lies.
To my knowledge, I’ve never been betrayed. I’ve only let 2 people ever be in the position to betray me, LO #2 and my wife.
I have no evidence that either one of them did. If they did, they were smart enough not to tell me and good enough to pull it off without me getting a whiff of it.
The moment at which the LE could have turned physical is a memory very hard to shake.
I’d already disclosed my ‘crush’ to SO and we had set boundaries. SO was OK with me hugging LO, because he often hugs female friends (and blatantly underestimated how I was feeling!!)
This particular lunchtime LO and I had had a rather close/intimate conversation, about dreams and hopes/plans for our future (to be clear these were our separate futures and at no point was a future together even mentioned). As we left the staffroom (staff cutbacks meant no-one else was around until we had returned from break) I can’t recall how but we had a very close hug. LO kissed my cheek a couple of times, and my rational brain kept going over “purposeful living, don’t hurt SO, don’t hurt kids,” and managed to not kiss him properly, despite part of me really wanting too.
So thanks to this site, and the focus on purposeful living, I managed to avoid a physical affair. Marriage is vastly improved now, but had things gone the other way the outcome would probably have been very different!!
Thank you for this site- I didn’t have words for what was happening before I found it. Have a SO and young kids, and seriously struggling over an LO who thankfully lives in another country. I have to see him once a year for about 10 days at a time for work and we message/audio message in between sometimes. Haven’t seen him in 6 months and will be seeing him 3 months from now- panicking already at the thought. Analyzing all previous messages, compulsively checking social media, basically going full blown crazy. Home life is good so I’m not trying to escape or fill some void- I genuinely feel like this person is a missing part of me that I found at an entirely impossible time of life. Not sure what he feels if anything, not that it matters. Ugh!! Our only physical contact has been hugs and European cheek kisses that he exchanges with friends normally anyway, but when we travel together I seriously long to be basically hugging him at all times and I know I’ll be really struggling with this when I see him next. This is the freakin worst!! I’m considering taking the nuclear option of telling him when I see him and basically asking him to cut off contact because I don’t know if I can do it myself (plus I couldn’t do it out of the blue- he would worry and ask colleagues about me- he would have to know I was going NC). Has anyone done this? What’s happened?
I wrote a post about disclosure to LO here. It’s a blunt instrument, but it does end the uncertainty. The only other thing I would note, however, is that asking him to cut off contact is a risky strategy. You are basically pushing the responsibility of managing the situation onto him, and you don’t know how he will respond. The only surefire way of managing the limerence is to take that responsibility on yourself and steel yourself to making the sacrifice (no contact) to forge yourself a better life.
This should be followed up by some deep work into what it is that you felt LO was completing in you, and what that means for you, and what other ways you might be able to meet that personal need within the boundaries that you want to set for yourself.
It is possible to try and use the limerence experience to transform your life. It’s a good way to salvage something positive from a painful situation.
The posts on disclosure were helpful. So true that it would be risky (and unfair) to put the responsibility of no contact all on him- I do think it would have to be a shared commitment though, otherwise even if I block him everywhere he will reach out to mutual colleagues we’ve traveled with to see if I’m ok and will feel like he did something wrong. I care about him and don’t want him to feel like I ditched his friendship for no reason or that he upset me somehow. I believe he cares about me a lot as well and finds our unusual international “friendship” to be a special one, so a sudden no contact would hurt us both. but he would hold up his end if it was something I asked for and needed. What a sad thought, though… for 3 years I’ve been hoping our physical distance would be enough to keep us safely in the friend zone, so I could have him in my life without it wreaking havoc, but it’s only getting worse each time I see or speak to him…
I’m a bit of a coward, so sort of disclosed to LO in a card which I left for him on the last day of my old job. In it, as well as thanking him for his help and support in my old career, I said I was struggling with limerence (didn’t explain any further, he’s always keen to learn something new so if he was interested he would have googled) and that I couldn’t manage to balance things any more. As a result I would be cutting contact.
We were NC for 6 months, he completely respected that. After that we came back into contact because of circumstances, not something either of us could have controlled. Then I unblocked him for a bit (he’s blocked again now) and we exchanged a few friendly but very general (work and kids) messages. I then started to struggle again and asked him to block me. He didn’t want to, said he would respect my need for no contact, but wasn’t sure how to block and if I wanted that it was up to me, but he wasn’t comfortable doing it. This taught me that ultimately it is my problem and I’m the only one who can solve it.
Good luck with your situation!
Infidelity loomed large in LO #2s worldview. 4 of 6 of her failed relations involved her either cheating with a married partner or being cheated on. I suspect she may have poached her husband from her roommate but that’s pure speculation. Her father was in an open affair.
As the endgame was playing out, infidelity came up. I told LO #2 that I had never cheated on her.
She replied, “I know. I don’t think you’re capable of it.”
I’d like to think that was a tribute to my integrity but it may have been her way of saying I didn’t have the balls to pull it off.
Well, I am not sure I agree with your statement of disclosure of the affair to SO, but maybe I am just not there yet and need to come to that conclusion on my own.
Your blog raised a lot of questions for myself, what kind of person I am. Having crossed that line to the PA, I keep on asking myself, how the hell did that happen and what kind of monster am I… and worse, it wasn’t that I just couldn’t resist temptation, I was the one that actively pushed for it. I disclosed to LO at some point, where I thought it was mutual, and he (being single) said he doesn’t feel that way, he sees me as a friend only, esp. given I was married with kids. But he kept on doing things that you wouldn’t just do for a friend without having feelings. And I think that uncertainty fueled my limerence so much, and pushed me more and more to find out if there was something. His words and his actions just wouldn’t add up. He let me get close, every time a bit more (over months), but never all the way, he was always holding back just a bit, always under the pretense of us just being friends. And it drove me crazy. Until I crossed the line all the way and kissed him.
Well, long story short, it is over now, and I have to figure out how to live with what I did and learn from my mistake. Any uncertainty… run as far away as I can.
“Well, I am not sure I agree with your statement of disclosure of the affair to SO”
Why do you disagree?
No one except LO and I know, we both agree it will never happen again and regret that it came that far. There is as good as no evidence and I don’t see why I should hurt SO with this, when it is over and in the past. It would also significantly impact the kids. I have to deal with what I did and that’s not easy. But I don’t see why I should bring this level of destruction to the family when I can avoid it. Thoughts?
Serial Sufferer says
It’s about consent. Your significant other has been in a relationship with a person who was in a relationship (emotional or physical or both, doesn’t matter) with another person. Your significant other didn’t consent to that. He should have had a chance to make his own decision. Too late to fix that, at least you can give him the respect of letting him make his own decision now. If he’s capable of forgiveness – give him time for that – it’ll make your relationship stronger. If he’s not, don’t you want to know he’s not capable of forgiveness? One of my limerent objects (long ago) was in a short, unhappy marriage. He confessed our kiss to his wife who retaliated by sleeping with someone. They divorced. He found someone else & remarried, last I heard much more happily than before. I’m not crazy that I played a role in that, but I’m guessing both of them would say they’re better off, and maybe it would have dragged on for ages without that trigger.
Is your marriage something you want? It’ll be a stronger, happier relationship in the long run if you are honest now.
When disclosing to your significant other, I recommend a balance of taking responsibility but not blame. Your significant other may express a lot of blame. You can let them express their anger without internalizing that blame. The difference is that responsibility means admitting your error, correcting it, and making amends. Blame means groveling, wallowing in shame & guilt. It’s really hard to feel like a worthy person if you internalize that blame. I would allow (and I have allowed) some blaming initially because that’s the immediately reaction, but I wouldn’t have let it go on. My significant others were/are both more interested in healing our relationship than in blaming, but I have spoken up a time or two to remind them that it doesn’t feel good to be blamed and is that what they really want to inflict on me?
“I have to deal with what I did and that’s not easy. But I don’t see why I should bring this level of destruction to the family when I can avoid it. Thoughts?”
I have a few.
I’ll start this off by saying I had an EA, not a PA. I bumped up against my vows but I didn’t go through them. But, I’ll tell you a story.
Can you take your secret to the grave? Can LO? How does your husband feel about betrayal?
I live in a “fault state.” I’ve had one conversation with a divorce attorney in my life and I hope I never have to do it again. I Googled “Top Divorce Attorneys in …..” They don’t come cheap.
When I consulted a divorce attorney for reasons that had nothing to do with infidelity, he asked:
“Is she sleeping around?” (No)
“Are you sleeping around?” (No)
“Have you hit her?” (No)
“Has she hit you?” (No)
“Too bad. If any of those had happened, I could be in front of a judge in 24 hours. You have to go the separation route….However, that said, I’ve never had a client yet that told me he wanted a divorce that I couldn’t get one for. It’s a matter of how much you’re willing to spend and what you’re willing to do to get it.”
Two hours later, I was sitting in our EAP counselor’s office with my wife. She’d begged me not to see the attorney but, at that point, I needed to know what my legal options were. My wife was already in the EAP counselor’s office. The EAP counselor brought me an and asked, “What’s your take on this?”
I told her, “I just spent $600 consulting an attorney about divorcing the woman I love because she has a problem she is either unwilling or incapable of addressing. Our son is crying his eyes out because his mother’s not there and our daughter is cutting herself because she is. Which one of them do I sacrifice?”
The counselor at the county crisis center said he’d sign an affidavit recommending I get sole custody and she get supervised visitation. Her marriage was going in the tank and she would lose her kids.
The EAP counselor asked, “Who’s helping you with your stress?”
Your situation is obviously different but the potential conversations could be equally as uncomfortable. Authenticity would lead you to come clean but that could come at one hell of a price.
It was this period that led me to revisit my decisions in life and got me thinking about LO #2. It was trying to sort why we didn’t make it back then that led me to encounter LO #4.
That is a sobering story, Scharnhorst. I hope you and all your family are in a better place now.
Much better, thank you!
To be honest, Sarah, I see very little reason to risk upending your marriage/family over a one-time kiss from a non-reciprocating LO. I totally understand your hesitation here. You can always confess. As it is, I think you will have to be prepared now to be truly honest if you are confronted and accept the consequences. But once you do disclose, you can never go back. For all you know, your SO would prefer NOT to know. Those who insist that disclosure is the only moral choice here are people who prefer to pretend that the world is black and white. Do this, don’t do that, and all will be well. I wish life were that simple, but it isn’t.
Succumbing to the LO temptation, IMO, means there’s something missing in your marriage and/or in your life and you need to work on THAT. In my case, I came to feel that the secret I held was impeding my ability to do that work on myself and my marriage. And so I disclosed–in a therapy-induced fit of vulnerable sharing. It felt great at the time. But I’m not at all sure that I won’t someday come to regret it. If I don’t already. My marriage is a very unhappy one right now (although it probably was before, too). My wife and I are going through that stage in couples therapy where it gets worse before it gets better. It is not easy. I’d have to say it’s been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever tried to do. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
I think this is the heart of the matter. It’s not that “you should do this because it’s moral and right”, it’s that the alternative is to live the rest of your life holding a deep lie inside yourself, knowing that your spouse has been betrayed but doesn’t know it.
It’s like there’s an unexploded bomb underneath your marriage. You might get away with pretending it’s not there and hoping nothing (or no one) will set it off, but if you make the decision to live more purposefully your best hope is to diffuse it through disclosure. It may go off while you are attempting to diffuse it, but if you ever want to be free of it, you have to try.
I wish I could say it was a one-time kiss with an non-reciprocating LO, but it was unfortunately more than that. We agreed that it was stupid and it should not happen again, but after a few weeks, there was a kiss again here and there (in an elevator or the car as he drove me home) but not really much more, as there weren’t that many opportunities, and I wasn’t comfortable lying about my whereabouts as I was too afraid of getting caught. We worked at the same company, but lived quite far away from each other (luckily), so going by his place was no option for me, as it would have involved me coming up with some sort of a story. I was too afraid of random things happening that would have busted me. And every time more happened or if there was a pattern, I would freak out and say we have to stop. So we stopped the PA like 4 times, then were good for a few months… until I relapsed.
But it was as much of an EA as it was a PA or actually even more so. The physical attraction was there, but the level of intimacy almost more important. SO was not interested in hearing anything, about the kids, about me. His usual comment was “do I need to know, is it important?” So it felt good that there was someone (LO) actually interested in hearing all tiny things that make my world go round. The PA we (I) stopped every time it became predictable, as I just felt too guilty, but the EA continued throughout. I was also afraid that SO would ever happen to check my phone… so conversations stayed within office and small talk. Like no sweet talk, nothing sexual in nature or anything like that, but the frequency was still way above the ok level and we did get to know each other well, like sharing stories about our childhood etc.
I am keeping my distance from LO now (I moved locations work-wise as well), reduce the texting to a minimum (non at the moment) and am very much trying to get over this and work on the issues with my SO, but it is still work in progress. Disclosure to SO, no disclosure… I am still in the process of figuring things out.
Google “emotional affair criteria” and one item that comes up on every list is a feeling of being heard and understood by the EA partner. LO #4 told me that it felt good to be appreciated. She was living with her BF at the time.
Does your SO perceive any problems with your marriage? Obviously, you see some. Maybe the question of disclosure is premature. If you work on your marriage as a team, a partial disclosure could be part of that. Imagine sitting in front of a therapist with your SO and saying that you were feeling “…so unheard and unappreciated that you turned to a male coworker to talk about things we should be talking about. I don’t like that.”
How do you think your SO would respond? Would he be willing to see a therapist with you? If he’s not, disclosure isn’t going to address the underlying problems.
On LWL, Sophie is probably the person that you might relate to. Poke around different articles and search for her posts.
“If he’s capable of forgiveness – give him time for that – it’ll make your relationship stronger. If he’s not, don’t you want to know he’s not capable of forgiveness? ”
An individual can be capable of forgiveness, but may find certain actions unforgivable. Don’t conflate the two. Plus, Sarah’s husband could forgive her and still decide that a divorce is the best way forward for him and he gets to make that decision for himself. After all, one person violated the trust implicit in a marriage and it doesn’t matter how justified you feel in having done so. If you were THAT miserable, then speak up and get therapy. Separate after having drawn up an agreement that addresses the needs of the children. Divorce. Or whatever. But what you are doing by not telling him what happened is deciding that honesty and integrity are what other people should do. It didn’t apply to you because it wasn’t convenient for it to apply to you, you were entitled to have the affair and you pursued him on top of it all.
Does anyone think Bernie Madoff deserves forgiveness for having stolen millions of dollars? Don’t you think the victims would prefer to have their MONEY BACK? The Madoff investment scandal defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars.
“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour … If at my convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?”
You’ve busted them. What are they worth to you and to others? Do you and your husband tell the kids not to lie, cheat and steal? That when faced with a difficult decision, to take the high road? Walk the talk.
In addition, it is unwise to trust WhatsHisName to never – ever – disclose what happened. Under any circumstances whatsoever. Not while tipsy. Not to a girlfriend or his future wife. Don’t believe for a minute that it’s not a possibility. I know who Mr. Lee dated before we were married after all. Plus the odds that no one in your family or circle of acquaintances didn’t see your behavior changing over the course of a year, or that no one ever spotted you with WhatsHisName are vanishingly small.
You may have screwed the pooch/torched your marriage. But if you don’t disclose and your husband finds out through other means, it will be even worse than if you tell him. No matter how awful a marriage you may have (or not), your husband did not force you to have an affair. Own your decisions.
“Does anyone think Bernie Madoff deserves forgiveness for having stolen millions of dollars?”
Does anyone think this is a reasonable comparison?
They’re acts of thievery. Someone wanted something or felt entitled to take what wasn’t theirs. It takes planning. Theft of money, theft of trust, theft of peace of mind, etc. It underscores why there are business owners who are willing to give convicted drug dealers a chance at employment, but not a convicted thief. An affair that went on for a year isn’t one act of betrayal, nor is it impulsive, or the equivalent of stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving children.
The foundation of his marriage isn’t what he thought it was and that is information he should have. Sarah would be rightly upset if she found out he was lying to her about his employment status, was dipping into his 401k, or was kissing a colleague or “just a friend”.
That should have been “acts of deception”.
Well, I was kinda wondering if someone ELSE thought it was a reasonable comparison. 🙂 But I hear you. I often find your perspective compelling, Lee–even if I don’t always agree with all your rules in application to everyone. I’d even admit it was one of the [minor] motivators for my own disclosure. I just find it interesting how in marriage, we (society, the law, whatever) make this grand distinction between the ONE ACT that kills trust and peace of mind, etc. and possibly can’t be forgiven versus the slow death by a thousand cuts that is an unhappy marriage. Which is worse, really? A limerent “cheating” on their SO? Or someone failing to nurture their partner for years because they’re career-obsessed? Or failing to keep on top of their own health needs so you can age together? Or failing to take care of shared children? I mean….it’s all bad. All those actions steal time and energy and passion from another person. The financial services industry has stolen more from the investing public than ten Bernie Madoffs. But no-one from Wall Street is goin’ to jail. One “crime” is just more easily measured than another.
Yes, it’s an interesting point, Landry. Why is cheating the one act?
If we’re going to keep flogging the analogy, I suppose the issue is deceit. Being a neglectful, or lazy, or inconsiderate spouse is overt behaviour – in the same way that financial services normally declare their exorbitant fees and rent-seeking upfront. Madoff was a con-man.
I think the analogy breaks down, though, in terms of motivations. I don’t think that limerents are driven by greed or entitlement, I think they are driven by a desire to bond. That may not mitigate the damage caused, but I do think it makes the cheater = thief equation wrong.
While Madoff’s marks may have trusted him, I doubt any of them intimately bonded with him.
Oxytocin makes people act weird. Before I met LO #2, the owner of the salon where I got my haircut tried to fix me up with one of her stylists. There was no attraction on either side but we had closer than purely professional acquaintance.
She started dating another of her clients. I met him and he seemed ok. One day she said she had a question. She asked if it was typical for guys to suddenly turn really possessive. She said he went from pretty mellow to suddenly wanting to keep track of her whereabouts. I asked her when she started sleeping with him. She dropped the clippers. I told her he thought he had something to protect now. I told her if could be creepy and if it was, she should dump him. This was in the 80s.
I got the same vibe from LO #4 when we were still in contact. She dropped hints that someone she was dating turned weird. I wanted to ask the same question of her but thought better of it.
Infidelity really hurts because it’s betrayal on the most intimate level.
“I just find it interesting how in marriage, we (society, the law, whatever) make this grand distinction between the ONE ACT that kills trust and peace of mind, etc. and possibly can’t be forgiven versus the slow death by a thousand cuts that is an unhappy marriage. Which is worse, really? A limerent “cheating” on their SO? Or someone failing to nurture their partner for years because they’re career-obsessed?”
I live with a limerent who is mentally ill and refuses to actively better his situation/health. A limerent can also cheat their spouse in a thousand different ways. I live with a limerent who has spent decades insisting that my taking care of myself is depriving him of centrality. I live with a limerent who left me to pull the marital and child-raising load for DECADES. I live with a limerent who could barely be bothered to lift a finger when I was battling a serious health crisis for a year.
But did I embrace flattery from others? Did I come home and announce to him that I was enamored by a hotter, younger version of himself? No. I shut that s*** down when I was hit on at work or in the world at large (back when it would happen).
If I’m career-obsessed it’s because Mr. Lee has refused to think about our future as an aging couple. Put money aside for retirement? Barely. So that fell on me. Take kids to lessons? Nope. Pay for their clothes, supplies, medical/vision/dental bills? Nope. Insist they do their homework? Nope. Instead I was told I was a nagging bitch.
So it’s not been all peaches and cream for me either. But I made choices and decision to NOT indulge in flights of fancy. I brought up our marital issues through the years and got shot down. I take planning for the future seriously – even accounting for his mental health needs, which means that while he is planning on taking early retirement in less than 5 years and I will have to work until I’m 70+ years old, or at least another 15 years.
So sure. I’m not as sensitive as a limerent. I don’t feel that I have to be “as one” with another human being because I don’t think that is fair to ask of anyone or have it asked of me. I am more dogged. I keep on going despite being treated like a rented mule. But absolutely it’s on MY shoulders to prevent HIM from being unhappy.
Why do you stay?
Duty. I take my commitments seriously. “In sickness and health; for better or worse; forsaking all others”, etc. If my word is no good, then why bother going through with getting married. The tax breaks aren’t THAT great.
I’m an atheist and apparently I take my vows more seriously than many religious people of my acquaintance. Too many are looking for a way around them, so I really don’t know why they made a big fuss over saying magic words, in magical costumes, in a magical venue.
To bring this back to Landry’s point: would you advise people who have been cheated on to stick with their duty? Or to leave the cheater and gain a better life?
Do you not think that Mr Lee’s cumulative betrayals count for as much harm?
Or you may get super-lucky and find out this makes him very happy but he never told you before. Some people find twosomes boring. YMMV.
Your happiness is just as important as his.
Rachel Williams says
So I’ve been trying to move on from this limerance shit storm for a good few months now. Cut a long story short.. married with 3 kids, limmerent for someone I see very regularly and unable to avoid. I would say the last 6 weeks I’ve been making massive improvements, partly due to my hypnotherapy I’ve been having for life long anxiety.
Anyways, I’m improving so so much but can’t seem to finally shake off my LO I feel like it’s now holding me back in such a huge way. FYI no physical contact but feelings were mutual and he decided to put a stop to our sort of emotional affair. My mental state is so much better no real depressive episodes and enjoying life.
Can anyone give me any tips on how to finally be free or is it a case of time. I sometimes slip back into ruminating thoughts and get sad if there’s not a positive communication. I still get the sharp sting to the heart if I hear about him and his happy marriage and I get the butterflies sometimes still.
In my therapy sessions we have been working on managing my ‘monkey mind’ due to anxiety and which is where limerance comes from, the amygdala part of the brain. I’ve just came across this post and it really resonagted with me. If anyone wants to check it out….
Any comments would be really appreciated or previous experiences of finally letting go of this particular LO. It’s frustrating now.
Thank you for sharing the helpful link to that wise essay.
As I just wrote to another commenter on a different thread here, I strongly recommend the deprogramming course that Dr L created. More info about it is available in his May 12, 2019 blog post on this site. I think you’ll find it helpful.
And I meant to add, I’m so sorry to hear about those stings to the heart. It sounds unfortunately familiar; happens to me too.
I’m taking a class on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, where we are reading the book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Today I re-read the chapter in Working with Emotional Pain and it is a strong lifeline to help me keep from feeling that I’m drowning in grief over the loss of LO’s attention and company now that I am experiencing reduced contact.
Rachel Williams says
Thank you so much for you reply much appreciated. I’ve completed the course actually which is bloody awesome. It’s these final lingering feelings that are really stopping me from living my best life. Perhaps it’s just time and persiverance that will weaken the emotional bond. I just want that indifferent feeling so badly. I’ve had this feeling with previous LO’s so I know it can happen.. thankfully for the course I’m now super vigalant to the glimmer I see me trying to transfer sometimes.
Oh, I see, Rachel, so you’re a bit ahead of me in your journey. It’s great to hear the course worked so well for you. Then I would also appreciate any comments anyone has on finally letting go!
Thanks both for the endorsement of the course 🙂 Really glad it’s helping.
Rachel, I suspect you are hitting what I called the “recovery plateau” in the course. When your action plan has got you to the point of making big gains for recovery, but then you face the loneliness and sadness of missing LO (or, more specifically, missing the positive energy of limerence). It’s kind of like the midpoint of a marathon, when the energy of the start begins to ebb, you notice the pain and fatigue, and the distance ahead suddenly seems a lot to keep going for.
I think there are two important principles: 1) recognise that the plateau is normal and predictable, and that you do just need to keep on running, 2) spend time fantasising about new goals and new sources of energy and excitement. No-one wants to slog forever, but it’s much better to look forward to new rewards than turn around and run back towards the false (and unhealthy) reward of limerence.
Here’s a good essay on a related topic:
Rachel Williams says
Ahh that’s a good one self care is soo important and number 1 is sleep. Lord how the mind fucks with you when your exhausted. This is a really hard process but I really do believe that once we’ve beaten it and are ‘free’ that we will be happier better people from the whole experience. Man has this been a massive learning curve for me already. Also so scary where the dark places your mind takes you too. Mindfulness is key I think. Live in the moment. Hard when your washing up and intrusive thoughts keep coming and coming back. Another technique I’ve learnt is tonl actually indulge the though to the point you’ve exasserbated it then think logically and practically and redivert your thought. After all they are mearly thouughts, right…
Whilst it’s important to process your thought and feelings after a while I can become a habit, thinking about LO, and you get into a cycle that you can’t get out of. I’m 6m into NC and I can’t quite shake off the thoughts. I don’t want her anymore, I don’t want to break NC, but I still imagine future conversations, and replay our last few angry words to each other. These thoughts are no longer useful to me and are holding me back.
It does seem to be mindfulness, meditation that allows you to develop techniques to shut these thoughts off. I’ve been following this guy for a while, Dr Joe Dispenza, and he has some interesting ideas that Im going to try:
Rachel Williams says
Yes I’m totally in that place just can’t seem to shift the habbit of my mind going back to them. Although yesterday I had completed limerent feelings yesterday and was gonna ask him for a catch up. Luckily I caught myself and stopped before I went and done something I regret. I’m trying meditation especially for letting go of obsessive thoughts. Sounds like we’re over the worst! For sure. But would be nice to be free completely. Doesn’t help LO lives on my street and see him all the time!
Jennifer Pearson says
All of this behavior sounds like a form of OCD. I wonder if being put on medication would help.
I have heard from a limerent who also had OCD who said that their meds helped, but generally it’s a bad idea to a) extrapolate from one person and b) experiment with meds…
One important difference between OCD and limerence is that OCD tends to involve irrational fears and anxiety, rather than irrational excitement and attraction. There is some overlap with intrusive thoughts and the involuntary nature of the emotions, but I think addiction is a better analogy. Certainly the vast majority of limerents I hear from haven’t suffered with OCD in their lives.
Hi Dr L and Jennifer,
I’m in therapy with an OCD specialist and I expect she would agree with those distinctions. I have not suffered from OCD before, and I agree the limerent experience for me is largely like an addiction. Because I found the obsessional thinking and intrusive thoughts so debilitating, I am seeing this therapist to help me practice the mantra ‘belief follows behavior’ as therapy for my obsessional thinking. That is, we are doing a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). She deeply comprehends my life circumstances as well, so we’re doing plenty of plain old psychotherapy along with the CBT. This practitioner appreciates the value of mindfulness practice and I was referred to her by the instructor (also a clinical psychologist) of a course that I took over the summer on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Second Article of the Day: https://thoughtcatalog.com/anonymous/2020/03/everything-i-wish-i-could-tell-the-other-woman/
Caution: This article is very intense.
“I have seen my best friends cry for me, for my son, for his confusion. I have seen my sister, my coworkers, and even acquaintances wipe tears from their eyes because everyone who knew us or me thought we were the real thing. ”
This article is at the level LO #4 & I were on once she started opening up and confiding in me. And, aside from providing her a virtual shoulder to cry on, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do for her. I cried for her. I shouldn’t have been crying for another woman but I was.
Thank you for this article, this has helped me immensely. (I wasn’t married, I was the one targetted by a married “LO” and somehow this explained a lot)