Have You Heard of Limerence?

May 16, 2024
Reading time: 4 minutes
Love, Relationships, Self-Worth

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At this point in my life, after counseling hundreds of couples through all kinds of relationship challenges and a 26-year marriage of my own, I have a pretty expansive view of relationships. Even so, I am no expert and every so often, a new topic will arise in the realm of relating that I get to explore. One that recently caught my attention is a relational experience known as limerence.

Limerence is a term that might not be familiar to everyone, but the feelings it describes are something many of us have encountered. It is characterized by an intense, often immediate, romantic infatuation with another person that is accompanied by the emotional whirlwind we associate with new love. This phenomenon was first coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the late 1970s to describe an involuntary state of deep obsession with another individual, one that typically brings about unhealthy and damaging behaviors.

It is more than just a crush—limerence is characterized by a profound longing for reciprocation, obsessive thoughts about the person of affection, and extreme shyness or anxiety around them. Those experiencing limerence might also find themselves either elated or devastated by small interactions or perceived signs of reciprocation (or lack thereof) from the object of their affection. For someone in the throes of limerence, these feelings can seem overwhelming and uncontrollable, often leading to a distorted perception of reality where every action from the limerent object is overanalyzed for meaning.

This is a painful enough experience for a single person, but it often creeps into partnerships as well. What do we do when we, or our partners, find ourselves in this kind of destructive dynamic?

Acknowledge That What You See (And Feel) Isn’t Reality

Your feelings are real, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are reflecting reality. Acknowledge the feelings of limerence both with yourself and a trusted source like a therapist. Understanding that these emotions are part of a recognized psychological phenomenon can help in managing them more rationally. When we experience infatuation, that “can’t eat, can’t sleep” feeling that is a hallmark of limerence, our brains are flooded with a combination of dopamine and the stress hormone cortisol. Together, the two suppress serotonin levels, which brings about desperation and mood swings.

As intense as the feelings are, they will eventually pass, and what will be left are two very normal, fallible human beings—not fated, windswept characters in a cinematic love story. Limerence brings mental and emotional turmoil, while real love is positive and supportive, based on mutual respect and intimate connection.

Understand the Four Stages of Limerence

Knowing that this experience is characterized by four stages can help you, your partner, or both of you navigate the waves until they pass.

Infatuation: Attraction takes hold, and suddenly, thoughts of the limerant object begin to invade daily life to an extreme degree. Often, the limerant is seen in an idealized, overwhelmingly positive way.

Anxiety and Uncertainty: A reminder that this is not real love, the second stage is characterized by uncertainty, insecurity, and neediness.

Emotional Volatility: This stage brings mood swings, intrusive thinking, and even despair as the reality begins to set in and the infatuation inevitably fades.

Resolution: whether through rejection or choosing to end it, the intensity or overall experience of limerence will resolve. There may be feelings of sorrow or relief that follow, but any romantic feelings subside.

No matter how intense the stages seem, limerence is temporary. Unlike real love, which grows consistently over time, this experience of romantic obsession is tumultuous and has an expiration date. Even when the romantic feelings are reciprocated, studies have shown that these pairings don’t last, given that limerence itself is considered a psychological impairment.

Examine Your Relationship—Reinvest or Part Ways

Shifts and pivots are required in any long-term relationship. We are always growing, and when we grow alongside someone, we have to communicate about how our needs change as well. However, when kids, jobs, and routines get involved, it’s easy for our partnerships to take a backseat. Before we know it, a chasm of distance is created. This is why I emphasize the importance of curiosity and of nurturing your partnership with new experiences. Engaging in fun or new activities together, scheduling regular date nights, and expressing appreciation for each other can help repair and reinforce your emotional bond.

I never encourage anyone to stay in unhealthy or unfulfilling relationships. If the relationship doesn’t work to a chronic degree, it’s best to part ways so that you and your partner are free to find a new one. However, dealing with limerence in your relationship also gives you the opportunity to recommit. If your decision is to stay committed to your partner, actively work on strengthening your relationship by rebuilding trust, enhancing communication, and deepening emotional connections. It’s possible that your relationship can become even stronger as a result.

A successful relationship is a continuous process involving transformation for each person individually, for the couple together, and for the world. Relationships are forces that support not only your own spiritual path but also a shared vision of having a higher spiritual goal and greater purpose together with bringing more Light and love into the world. The mistake we make is that we think that finding love guarantees eternal bliss. Limerence is an example of being caught in this illusion—one that is based on our material experience and arises from more of an egoic place than a spiritual one. We believe that the chemical experience of an infatuation is what we’re supposed to feel all the time—and I’m here to tell you, it isn’t.

If this experience arises in your partnership, see it as the opportunity it can be to either free yourself from a relationship that isn’t working or really work to build something new with your partner—as challenging as it may be. Either way, the potential for transformation is there, and you’re bound to find more real love on the other side.


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