ERP 105: How To Deal With Limerence In Relationship
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What is limerence?
Most people see limerence as infatuation, lovesickness or romantic love, while others think of it more as a love obsession or addiction.
Limerence is the “I need you, want you, can’t live without you” feeling.
Limerence is a term coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in her book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. Tennov defines limerence as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person.”
(Please listen to the podcast episode or read the transcript to hear more explanations, stories and examples.)
How does limerence start?
In the beginning stages of attraction, our brain releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones, which provide the euphoric feeling of being “in love.” Whereas when a relationship develops, the bonding hormones like oxytocin help calm the rush and high.
The increase in dopamine, a neurochemical, is one of the main reasons why we feel the high euphoric feeling. People who use cocaine get a similar dopamine high.
Being addicted to the dopamine high, can bring on intense, all-consuming feelings to consume more…be it cocaine or the pursuit of the love interest.
Characteristics of limerence:
- Intense romantic desire.
- Uncontrollable and obsessive thoughts. (i.e. All you can do is think about him/her. You can’t get anything done. You can’t eat and you can’t sleep.)
- Being constantly reminded of the person.
- Idealization of the person’s positive attributes. (i.e. He/She is amazing and perfect!)
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as trembling, flushing, weakness or heart palpitations around the other person.
- Arranging your schedule to maximize encounters with the other person.
What is the difference between romantic love during the honeymoon phase and limerence?
During the early stages of a romantic relationship (like the honeymoon stage) it is difficult to distinguish between love and limerence. Some experts view limerence as a natural part of early love, whereas others see limerence as a totally different experience altogether.
If limerence and early romantic feelings are similar initially, they start to differ over time. In healthy relationships, the couple bonds through mutual interests and enjoyment of each other’s company. Limerence often turns into a dynamic that stops feeling good to one or both partners. This is especially true when a person’s feelings are not reciprocated.
When limerence becomes problematic.
Unrequited feelings: When your affection is not shared.
- Can be unstable and intense.
- Especially made difficult when mixed signals are sent or physical and/or emotional distance prolongs the intensity and uncertainty (e.g., object of affection lives in a different state or is married).
- Attachment can become desperate and obsessive.
- Fantasizing about or searching for signs of reciprocation (“reading into things”) can make limerence worse.
- Might have the tendency to maintain romantic intensity through adversity.
Anxious and/or obsessive tendencies:
- Fear of rejection can bring on anxious feelings.
- Replaying in your mind every encounter with the other person in great detail can be an expression of the anxiety.
- Endlessly analyzing every word and gesture to determine their possible meaning is also another sign of anxiety.
- If rejection occurs, people can feel despair and/or have thoughts of suicide (as the rejection usually activates a deeper wound or fear).
- Emotional attachment and dependency (i.e. You feel like you need him/her around to just be able to breathe. You ache when they are not around.).
- Repeat the cycle of having intense feelings of infatuation, but never develop a secure relationship.
- Fall into a lifelong pattern of obsessive relationships.
- Can’t let go.
- Behaviors may become dangerous, such as stalking or suicide.
Limerence can be problematic when people have difficulty perceiving accurately. For example, if someone is anxious, they may be too preoccupied with their worry and fear to really relate to their love interest clearly.
How to deal with limerence?
1. Get clear.
- Perception check – what is he/she showing you and telling you?
- Check out assumptions. Get explicit. (i.e. Are we on the same page?)
- Stay present – stay in the here and now.
2. Reign in the forward thinking and fantasy.
- If you notice you are too worried about what might happen in the future, try to bring yourself back to the present moment.
- Sometimes when we feel anxious or avoidant, we are really trying to avoid or relieve pain (or the threat of pain).
- Focus on what is happening in the moment and take care of yourself.
- Take the pressure off and focus on having fun.
- “No matter what happens, I will be okay.”
3. Don’t lose yourself.
- Stay connected to who you are, your self-care, and your values. Keep up your hobbies and extracurricular activities.
- When people fall in love, they will often compromise, adjust, and contort themselves too much. After a while, they realize they have lost touch with themselves.
- Stay connected with people who know you and love you.
- If you have lost touch with yourself, don’t hide. Share what feels shameful or vulnerable with people you trust.
4. Give yourself time.
- To let your neurochemicals and hormones calm down.
- See what your love interest is like, after the love haze lifts.
- Look at lasting character traits (i.e. Are they honest? Do they treat you with respect? Are they available? How do they handle conflict?).
- Be honest with what you observe and be honest about what is important to you and your values.
5. Build trust.
- Trust is built over time and through seasons.
- If your love interest follows through, communicates, deals with difficulties with you, and expresses mutual care and regard, this will help you build trust.
- In general, people will show you what they are about and where they are at.
- The key is to see them clearly.
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