ERP 286: How To Know If You Experience Limerence & What To Do About It – An Interview With Dr. L

By Posted in - Podcast September 21st, 2021 0 Comments

On today’s episode of The Empowered Relationship Podcast, my guest, a neuroscientist known only as Dr. L, joins the show to support us in understanding limerence, what it is and how to negotiate the experience. He describes how his motivation for starting his blog and online community was rooted in his own unexpected experience of limerence after a long period of contented life as a husband. Dr. L shares his fascination with the underlying neuroscience behind limerence and his hopes that he can support other people to make sense of their experience of limerence from that perspective.

Dr. L gives us his one-sentence working definition of what exactly limerence is and how it differs from a crush. Limerence is linked with big swings in mood, where an individual moves rapidly between a sense of euphoria and deep lows, depending on how they currently perceive their relationship with the other person. We also dive into what type of person may be more prone to unrequited love and the three elements that have to be present to go from being attracted to another person to being limerent for them.

This week’s guest expert, Dr. L, blogs on his site Living with Limerence under a pseudonym so he can be fearlessly frank. In his everyday life, Dr. L is a neuroscientist passionate about helping people understand what’s going on in their traitor brains and reprogram themselves into leading more purposeful lives. He wants to explain what limerence is, how it affects us psychologically and emotionally, and how to devise practical ways to master it and integrate it into life in a healthier way.

In this Episode 

05:16 Dr. L’s personal experience of limerance and why he was inspired to start his blog

08:04 A working definition of limerance

14:40 The difference between a crush or the beginning of a romantic relationship and limerence

17:44 Why a distinguishing factor of limerance is the ability to function, socialize, or really engage in all the activities of a thriving life

19:29 The three elements that must be present to go from being attracted to another person to being limerent for them

23:31 The glimmer and hope, and then the uncertainty — and why that intermittent reinforcement makes you feel as if you’re addicted to someone

28:32 The characteristics of people who are a little bit more susceptible to limerance and the extra insight provided by the Myers Briggs type indicator

35:17 Why the relationship between limerence and attachment is so complex

42:53 The benign neglect that often happens in a marriage and why limerence can be the result of an unconscious feeling that something is missing in your marriage or partnership

45:58 Dr. L’s recommendations for people in limerence and how you can give yourself the empowerment of converting your rich inner world to something healthy and beneficial

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Limerence can catch you by surprise, so if you’re concerned that your crush is taking over your life, head to Dr L’s checklist that allows you the resonance of being able to self-assess
  • Check the impact of your feelings on your ability to engage in all the activities of a happy and fulfilled life. Do your fantasies consume too much space and affect your ability to function?
  • Consider how your personality and attachment type affect how likely you are to fall into limerence — are the three elements that move you from attraction to limerence present for you?
  • Understand why arousal and uncertainty coexist in a limerent relationship
  • If you are in a partnership and are starting to turn outside of your primary bond, think carefully about how to have your needs met, or feel validated inside your marriage instead of outside

Mentioned

Love and Limerence: The Experience Of Being In Love book by Dorothy Tennov *Amazon Link

Living with Limerence: A Guide for the Smitten book by Dr L *Amazon Link

NeuroSparkle blog

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About Today’s Show

Dr. L, thank you for joining us today.

It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Yes. I know that this is a topic, many people have been interested in and have a lot of curiosity around. So, I love that you’re going to be really supporting us with understanding limerence and what limerence is and how to negotiate when we’re experiencing something like limerence. So, thank you for sharing your valuable time with us today.

Okay, I hope I can help.

Yeah. Well, let’s get started. I guess I’m interested if you would be willing to share what got you interested in this topic?

Sure. Well, I think, as with many limerence, certainly many of the people that visit my site, I got interested in limerence when I fell into it unexpectedly. After many years of happy marriage, I became infatuated with a coworker. That wasn’t welcome. I wasn’t seeking it. I wasn’t actively looking for any kind of relationship, because I was happily married.

My background professionally is I’m a neuroscientist. I have a PhD in neuroscience and I’m an experimental scientist. And so, I kind of looked at it from that perspective. Obviously, that’s a large part of the way that I understand the world. And so, I was trying to think through what’s going on in my head, what’s the underlying neuroscience behind this. Can I make sense of the experience that I’m going through from that perspective?

And so, I obviously was doing a bit of research about it. I came across the book, Love and Limerence by Dorothy Tennov, who was a psychologist in the 60s and 70s who coined the term limerence. And really, that was the sort of aha moment for me. That was the breakthrough. I realized this is an understandable phenomenon.

It described exactly what I was going through. I think that’s a fairly common experience that when people do come across the concept of limerence and see it laid out, they recognize immediately, yes, that’s my experience of falling in love or at least falling into infatuation with somebody else. So, that’s really how I came across the concept in the first place.

Thank you for just even how this emerged for you. It’s really powerful. And just what you’re describing that the average person unless they’re confronted with this, perhaps doesn’t even know what limerence is?

No. Well, I mean, through my life, obviously, I’d become limerent in the past, and I’d been limerent from my wife when I first met her. And so, to me, that was just the beginning of love. That was what it was like. There’s plenty of romantic poetry and films and books and so on that describe that kind of utter infatuation for another person.

And so, I’d never really had to confront what it would mean to me if that happened when it wasn’t part of the plan. I was just going through my life happily and it came unexpectedly. I don’t know how to deal with that. I think it’s a fairly common experience that limerence can catch you by surprise, that even if you’re not single and looking for romance, it can come along.

Yes. And would you be willing to give us some frame? I don’t know if you have a working definition. What are you defining or seeing as limerence?

Sure. I mean, the one sentence summary is that it’s a mental state of profound romantic infatuation for another person.

“My personal favorite way of describing limerence is that you become addicted to another person. So, it’s like a behavioral addiction.”

That sort of captures the idea that it’s all encompassing, that it becomes like the major focus of attention in your life, that it’s obsessive, it’s involuntary. These intrusive thoughts about this person that you’ve become infatuated with constantly assail you.

It’s linked into very big swings in mood. So, the good bits of limerence that you get this sort of sense of euphoria and extreme excitement. It’s very enlivening to be limerent. Certainly, in the early stages. The world seems full of color, everything seems full of promise. And this wonderful other person seems to, just by being in their presence, you get this massive boost of energy and excitement.

It’s what I think Simone de Beauvoir calls the ecstatic union, this sense that you’re connecting with somebody else. There’s something so profoundly special about them for you that they give you this energy and exhilaration. The downside to limerence is that you get the opposite effect. So, if things aren’t going well, if they seem cold to you, if they seem aloof, it’s devastating. And so, your mood fluctuates between extreme highs and deep lows, depending on how your relationship with this person is going.

That’s the experience of limerence, if you like. The actual concept was invented basically by Dorothy Tennov, the psychologist that I mentioned. So, she coined the term limerence. It’s her own invention. She just made up the word. She just thought limerence has the right sound that captures this idea of a defined mental state that you can kind of get into.

Amusingly, she actually decided she liked it because it sounded good in French. So, that was her criteria for it being a good word. And so, she actually coined this concept and coined the term after interviewing hundreds of people who were going through some form of romantic distress. And so, she gathered all of their personal testimony together and kind of curated it. She narrowed it down to a series of symptoms, a list of particular experiences that people go through that define the state of limerence.

Usually, what happens is if people read that list, they will immediately recognize it in themselves if they’ve experienced it. And so, that list is a bit long. It’s on my website at LivingWithLimerence.com if you look for what is limerence. I give the list of Tennov’s description there.

I guess the defining features is that all encompassing obsession with another person that your mood is linked to their behavior, and is extremes of mood swings, and that it’s a mental state that’s really very distinct from anything else in life that you would otherwise experience. I think that that sense of emotional connection that feels kind of beyond the everyday that feels incredibly profound to the limerence is also a really important part of it.

Thank you. I know there’s so much to be said here so I appreciate your ability to kind of distil into some real key concepts. And then, even giving the link to your website. I’ll make sure to have that on today’s show notes if people are interested in really seeing the kind of symptoms or the checklist that that will help people really identify. It sounds like it’s a very quick resonance of being able to self-assess, if you will, that this is a very unique experience.

Sure. I think, again, as I say, most people who have experienced limerence, when they read that list will immediately resonate for them. And they’ll probably think, well, that’s just love. You don’t need a special word for that because that’s always been their experience to falling in love. But I think many other people do not go through that experience and make the mistake of assuming that everyone feels that as part of love.

“I think an awful lot of relationship difficulties that a limerent go through come from that mismatched expectation that they’re assuming that their partner has gone through that same emotional storm that they have.”

And perhaps not realizing that a significant proportion of the population are non-limerent and don’t go through that, and don’t recognize the symptoms. It’s why there’s miscommunications and mismatched expectations.

Exactly. I mean, there’s so much that I want to dive into. But before I do that, I have a few other questions I want to ask you just to get some parameters here. But the expectations are huge, right? If your significant other or the person that you’re engaging with, and let’s say it is requited that if they’re not feeling that same euphoria, then that could somehow cause concern. Maybe we’re not the right match or those types of things.

You’re saying that some people are more prone to this than others. So, before we even go there, Dr. L, can you distinguish if you see a difference between what a crush is and the romance phase? Most people can recognize the neurochemicals that are involved in the early stages of getting to know another, and everything that is happening in that experience, and that that is perhaps different than what you’re referring to with limerence. Is that right?

Absolutely, yes. So again, many people do respond to the list of symptoms for limerence and saying, “Well, that’s just a crush.” I think the easiest way of understanding the difference between limerence and a crush is the intensity of the experience.

There was a commenter on my site who said, for her the difference between a crush and limerence was she could enjoy a crush, was getting on with her everyday life and added a bit of spice to life and a bit of excitement and so on. But limerence was completely life consuming. That it’s the entire focus of your attention. It becomes very difficult to concentrate on anything else. It’s hard to actually get through everyday life sometimes because you’re so fixated on trying to secure reciprocation from this person that you’re limerent for. That becomes the driving motivation of your life.

I think that’s why I quite like the idea of describing limerence as addiction to another person. Because the excitement and the joy of being with somebody that that new relationship energy that you kind of talk about as being part of the early phase of romance, I think that’s universal, of course. But for limerence, it transitions into something more deep and all encompassing. It becomes a craving. It becomes involuntary. It becomes intrusive to a point where that is the sort of black hole of attraction at the center of your life. It’s hard to break out of it. It’s hard to focus on other things. I mean, even things like trying to read a book. Your mind will be constantly jumping back to this other person remembering the last time that you were with them. Rehearsing the next time you’re going to be with them. What you’re going to say, how could you phrase things in such a way to get them to admit their feelings for you, and even sort of voluntarily isolating yourself so you have some time to daydream about them. You get irritated and distracted by everyday tasks and responsibilities that prevent you from spending time ruminating over this other person. So, I think really it’s about the magnitude of the effect.

“Limerence goes beyond just the fun of new relationship energy into something that becomes hard to manage and becomes a craving and a compulsion.”

Yes, thank you for those distinguishing factors because as I’m listening to you, Dr. L, it reminds me of the diagnostic manual, the DSM, that we as clinicians utilize. I know most of the population maybe have features of depression or anxiety or something that has a flavor. It’s not diagnoseable because it’s not above the norm of what most people experience.

One of the distinguishing factors is usually ability to function. And what you’re talking about is the impact on functioning, right? Or just being able to read a book or socialize and really engage in all the activities of a thriving life that this really does consume a lot of the space and ability to function. Is that right?

Yeah, absolutely. I agree. I mean, if you look in the DSM, there’s no mention of limerence. It’s not recognized formally as a mental illness or a mental disorder or anything like that. I think it is in that grey area of life experiences where some people, they can experience the symptoms but they can manage it and they can function happily. Other people, it becomes too overbearing and it means that they can’t get through everyday life.

Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but they certainly find it hard to carry out their responsibilities. That almost can be the point at which you can define it as being, okay, this is now a problem. It’s no longer just the way that you experienced romantic love. This is now a life disruption that needs to be managed in some way.

Thank you. Thank you. And before we pivot to people who maybe are a little more prone, I’m curious. We’ve touched on this briefly, just the reciprocation or unrequited love. Is there a nature or feature to limerence, where that dynamic is prevalent, where maybe the person, like you said, is trying to earn the affection or get their responsiveness? Is that part of the process of limerence?

When I think of limerence, it’s got three elements to it, in my experience, that all of these three elements have to be present to go from the point of being attracted to another person to being limerent for them.

The first element, I would say, is something that I call the glimmer. Okay. So, this is a sense that you’ve met somebody else that is romantically potent for you. You might think of that as being like, say, the spark on a good date. There’s just something about this other person that you respond to. At an unconscious level, you’re picking up something from them that really attracts you and resonates for you. I think most limerent are actually able to recognize people that they could become infatuated with fairly early on. There’s just some kind of romantic potency to this person.

If that’s present, I would say the second element is that there is some hope for reciprocation. So, you pick up some cues from them that maybe suggest that they have some interest in you as well. And again, people differ very much in how much is needed, how much feedback they need, if you like, to have that sense of hope. But I think if the other person just shuts you down immediately and it’s clear that they’re not interested in you romantically, then I think the limerence will never develop.

I would say the third element, and probably the most significant when it comes to the intensity of limerence is uncertainty. There needs to be some element of uncertainty. You essentially cannot get satisfaction. You’re attracted to this person, you’re feeling the glimmer for them, there’s some hope of reciprocation there but there’s enough uncertainty that means you can’t just straightforwardly find out whether or not they’re romantically interested in you. That could be some kind of barrier.

For example, if either of you are married, or for whatever other reason, maybe in a professional context to some power discrepancy or something like that, that means you can’t openly express your feelings. Or it could be something about their behavior that if they are sometimes very hot and seem really interested in you and very responsive, but then other times they go cold, and so their behavior is very unpredictable and they give you mixed messages. That uncertainty, that element of uncertainty in the sort of psychological mix, I think is what pushes people into a state of limerence. That’s the point I think at which your thoughts become dominated with trying to analyze the situation and almost with a kind of forensic attention, you look at their body language and what they said the last time and what did that mean.

Oh, I remember a time when we got together and they were really responsive then. That time we went out to the coffee shop and they were really smiley and happy and intimate. Those kinds of memories bubbled up all the time, but then you think, “Well, the next time we got together, they weren’t so interested. They seem very cold and they cancelled our date.” That sort of behavior from the other person makes them kind of central in your mind. I think as a neuroscientist there’s actually some very interesting neurophysiology and psychology behind that, which we could maybe get into.

“Uncertainty is a central part of limerence.”

That’s so helpful to have those key points of just that. The glimmer, the hope, and then the uncertainty. And when you described that uncertainty, it reminds me a bit, just a very basic psychological fact, I guess, that intermittent reinforcement is the strongest reinforcement, right? This is when you mentioned, addiction, right? It makes me think of gambling and how when we get that positive fix, but it’s so intermittent meaning it’s not consistent, it’s not reliable. We don’t know when it’s going to come. So, is there any part of that intermittent reinforcement?

That was exactly where I was going with it. Absolutely. So, there’s that idea of intermittent reinforcement that when you don’t know when the reward is coming. There aren’t many things in life more rewarding than romantic reciprocation, the idea that you could possibly form a romantic bond with this person.

When you don’t know what you’re doing and how your behavior triggers that reward from the response of the other person, it’s incredibly psychologically destabilizing. You end up in that sort of behaviorist model of, you try all kinds of different behaviors to see what will provoke reward. But when the reward is unpredictable, because of the uncertain behavior of the person you’re infatuated with, you go a little bit mad, you know, trying to get that reward.

I mean, a gambling addiction, I think, is a great analogy. Because the other element of it is, so the gambling companies are obviously very sophisticated in the way that they tap into our psychology. And it’s often linking reward to arousal that’s absolutely critical. So having an unpredictable reward when you’re in a state of arousal, that is incredibly potent and powerful in regulating behavior and learning.

Again, that is always an element of limerence that you’re in a state of arousal. You’re in a state of excitement and exhilaration, and, you know, possibly sexual arousal as well. Obviously, that could be an element of it. But I’m meaning more the kind of arousal of your whole body so that sense of your heart’s beating faster and you’re feeling sweaty, your pupils dilate. That state of excitement, if you couple that to reward, that’s unpredictable. That’s an extremely potent mix. And that, of course, is what you’re going through in limerence.

As I’m listening to you describe this, part of me is like, “Oh, just even the arousal and the uncertainty, I can feel some excitement in that.” And then, I also simultaneously feel exhausted thinking about how unsustainable that is.

Yeah, absolutely. And again, that is a big element of it. Early on limerence feels fantastic. It’s not surprising that most people go through it totally normally and predictably. You get this euphoria. You get this fantastic life transforming excitement and exhilaration. You want more of that. You don’t even think of it consciously. You’re just led by those deep drives that generate that motivation to seek rewards. That’s a fundamental part of how our brains work. And it’s very useful, very important that they do that so that we can thrive.

But you can’t sustain that long term. It’s like, you know, going flat out in the car with your foot on the accelerator. You can’t sustain that in the long term. And so, prolonged limerence, where you can’t get a resolution, you can’t get satisfaction leads to exhaustion, and it leads to all those negative experiences of the sort of emotional crash, where you become depressed, you become devastated and exhausted. And people, again, it’s very common for the people that comment on my site to talk about feeling totally wrung out, and they just want it to stop because they can’t take the highs and lows anymore.

No kidding. Well, I’m grateful for what you’re doing in assisting people in this because it feels immense. So, let’s pivot, if you will, to people that might be more prone, or even as I listen, just the filling in the gaps, right? It’s really normal in beginning stages, when we don’t know the person of interest and we project a lot of who we imagine them to be. That requires, you know, depending on the person, but there can be more fantasy, or people have a little bit more rich description or artistic way of imagining that fantasy. We can really go pretty far with these types of thoughts. But I’m curious, would you be willing to speak to fantasies at play? And then also, what are the characteristics of some people or part of the population that are a little bit more susceptible to this?

Yeah. I think the fantasy element of it is normally kind of daydreaming about reciprocation. The major drive, I would say, is to express your admiration for the other person and get reciprocation from them of similar feelings. That the real urge. It’s not so much driven by lust as driven by the desire to emotionally connect. And so, the sort of the nature of limerent reverie tends to be remembering times when you’ve been together. It was very rewarding when they seemed very positive towards you. And imagining daydreaming, fantasizing about times when you could be together, or if there are barriers in life, that means you can’t form a relationship or don’t want to form a relationship with this person, maybe imagining scenarios where the world could be different and you could be in your own little bubble universe and somehow escape the constraints of life and be with them. It tends to be focused around that area, I would say, in terms of what the commonest fantasies are.

In terms of people that are more prone to limerence, this is, again, this is a question I get a lot. There isn’t very good research on it, bluntly, but one of the things that I’ve tried on the site is to assess the percentage of the population that are limerent. It’s very difficult to do that. So, as a limerent myself, I assumed, as I said at the outset, that this is just the way that love feels for everybody. And so, I kind of assumed that limerence was, if not a universal experience, certainly a very common experience. But the more I’ve tried to look into it, the more I’ve kind of come to realize that maybe I’m wrong in that. And that actually, it’s quite a small percentage of the population that experience it.

There’s a professor, Albert Waken, who has done some follow up research after Tennov. I think he was colleagues with her for a short period. He estimates the percentage of people that experienced limerence as 5% of the population. Now, how he’s defining limerence, though, I think is more at the end of people whose limerence is so bad that it’s disrupted their lives. And so, they come to the attention of clinicians. So, exactly how you define limerence is going to determine that.

Another blogger, another neuroscience blogger. Lucy Bane is her name. She runs a blog at Neuro Sparkle. She’s a clinical neuroscientist, and she wrote an article about limerence, in which she asked people at the end of the article to share their Myers-Briggs personality type. Now, people differ in their opinions about Myers-Briggs and how useful it is for understanding personality and so on. But we can we can sidestep all of those issues of how scientific or how useful the test is. I think the interesting thing about it from the perspective of limerence was the number of limerence that were in particular Myers-Briggs categories. The limerence were massively over represented in a couple of categories.

So, introverts. I can’t remember the exact lettering but they were both the IN categories. They were massively over represented in this sample of limerence. And what I actually did is take the data that Lucy had gathered and crunch the numbers on it and try to calculate. Well, given the percentage of the population that fall into each of these categories, and given the percentage of limerent that are in each of these categories, you can kind of do a statistical sum on that and just say, well, okay, what percentage of the population are limerent? And that came out about four and a half percent. So, very close to Albert Waken’s estimate. And so, I think limerence are over represented amongst introverts, and probably not too surprising given the central role of reverie and daydreaming, and I guess the vulnerability or the tendency to inhabit your internal worlds, and that’s where things seem most real. And so, people that have that, I guess internal focus, could be prone to falling into that trap of rumination.

“Limerence are overrepresented amongst introverts”

Thank you. And also, as far as the N, as far as I remember, the second character is sensing or intuition.

Yeah, I think that’s it. That is intuitive. Yeah.

You talked about the sparkle or the resonance or this internal sense. It’s not necessarily like the data or what we’re sensing with our five senses and this external precepting. And so, it’s really feeling oriented. I would be interested in that third character as a thought or feeling. But it’s interesting that the first to bear out is the most correlated. I guess it does speak to what you’re saying that there’s this rich inner world that if someone has that orientation to go inward, to feel deeply or to kind of have, like you said, this rich fantasy or daydreaming that there’s a lot of power to that.

Yeah. I wish I could remember the actual categories. So, for myself, I did the test after I read Lucy’s article. I’ve never done a Myers-Briggs before, but I did the test, and I came out as INFJ. And that was one of the two. So, the other one may be that INFP category as well. So yeah, that would fit as well with feeling being a component.

Okay, great. And have you come across anything around attachment and how people’s attachment style may or may not correlate with being limerent?

Oh, yeah. I think my personal view is that the relationship between limerence and attachment is actually very complex. Many people who kind of look at relationships from the attachment perspective do think that limerence is linked to anxious attachment.

At first sight, certainly, that seems quite clear. If you go through the list of symptoms for limerence. it is things like insecurity about whether or not they’re reciprocating. And the behavior of limerence constantly running over the relationship. Worrying about it, thinking about looking for reciprocation, being hypersensitive, if you like, to the cues of the other person, and being very focused on them that they become the most important part of your world.

I think many therapists would look at that as either sort of anxious attachment or signs of maybe even codependency or something like that, where you feel that the other person is the most important element of your world, and that you are responsible for their feelings and so on. I actually think it’s a bit more subtle.

Many people that get in touch with me, their attachment style in other relationships in their life is not anxious. That was my experience as well. If I ever run the test, I have stable attachments. My attachment to my wife is stable. And so, this came along that, if you like, the altered mental state of limerence leads to the manifestation of an anxious attachment, specifically for that person that you’re limerent for.

And so, I kind of tried to think of it maybe in terms of that’s a form of limerent attachment, which has many of the manifestations of an anxious attachment. But it’s not universally true that only anxiously attached people become limerent. However, if you do generally have anxious attachment and you are limerent, you get essentially a double whammy, unfortunately. The uncertainty and the hope and the insecurity that can be an element of limerent reinforcement will be even stronger. Because in addition to the disrupted neurochemistry of limerence, if you like, you’ve got that background level of psychologically anxious attachment.

The other big variable is if the person that you’re becoming limerent for, within the limerent community we call these people limerent objects, which sounds a bit dehumanizing but it is supposed to capture the idea that you actually as a limerent do objectify them. You don’t actually look at this person as a rounded human being. You’re obsessed with them. You idealize them. You push your emotional needs onto them as a sort of film screen, if you like. You’re projecting your movie onto them.

Tennov coined this term limerent objects to try and capture that fact that you’re not really engaging with this person in a healthy way. If your limerent object has an avoidant attachment style, you’re in for a really rough ride because that idea of intermittent reward from somebody that has an avoidant style. And if you’re anxious, I mean, that combination of an anxious attachment style and an avoidant attachment style obviously leads to a lot of heartache.

No kidding. And distress, oh, my goodness. And I really appreciate your naming just the complexity of attachment because I think for research purposes, people speak about it in very defined categories. I think it is so much more dynamic. I personally think that attachment style is forever. It’s not static, right? It’s forever evolving and molding based on our experiences. It could be quite possible that somebody is securely attached, and then they have this limerence experience. It perhaps even gives them an experience of insecure attachment because that person isn’t consistently responding, which is how it even gets developed in the first place but that’s more of the parent-child and the inconsistency of that. Okay, go ahead. I would love to hear if you have a comment.

Yeah. I completely agree. I think there’s a danger as well. I hear from limerent who say, “I picked up my courage and I talked to my therapist about limerence. They completely dismissed it. That devastated me.”

I think some therapists, obviously are looking from an attachment theory perspective or from a perspective of codependency. And so, there’s a danger, I think, that you can kind of try to fit the limerent into that box that predefined psychological diagnosis and say, “Okay. We’ve diagnosed the issue. The issue is anxious attachment.” when actually that isn’t the experience of those individuals in terms of their previous attachments.

“There’s always a danger of being too constrained in your thinking and not being open to the subtleties and to the fact that attachment is not fixed, it’s fluid.”

And as I’m listening to you, Dr. L, there’s a question that’s coming up for me, amongst many others. Given what your position is, having gone through this, and I’m assuming you had some sense of recovery with being limerent. I don’t know if you even use that word “recovery”. But there’s something about, I think in the field of psychology, when we look at a marriage or a partnership, and one person starts to turn outside of that bond and get needs met or feel affirmed or feel validated outside of their marriage. There’s some idea usually that has been there but maybe not. There’s been a void, or there’s been an unmet need, or there’s been some discontent in a marriage. I’m just curious. Did this person, the object of affection or the person of interest, fulfil or satiate something in the limerent? Are they getting something that they’re not getting in their marriage or partnership?

Yes. I mean, clearly, there was a psychological vulnerability that I wasn’t aware of. I am happily married. I was at the time. But like many relationships, you make pragmatic decisions necessary to just kind of keep going with everyday life.

I would say, probably the commonest experience of people who go through a similar situation to me is that there was nothing specifically wrong. It was just benign neglect. As parents, we focus on our children a lot. As working people, we focus on our careers. Domestic life is very busy and demanding. And so, you can, without any intent or deliberate action, neglect aspects of romance in your life.

And so, another common time for people to become limerent is midlife. You get to a point where you realize life is, you know, for many people, you’ve got into a point where you’re professional and domestic lives are pretty steady or pretty stable. And to then be, if you like, reminded of the romantic aspects of life is quite a shock. I think it’s not that there’s anything gone wrong, it’s just that there was this whole element of life that when you’re younger, typically, you’re much more attuned to that, to finding a partner, to securing a romantic attachment.

There does come a point, I think in midlife, where a lot of people go through, I mean, it’s stereotyped as a midlife crisis. But a lot of people get that sense of, well, this is my last chance. If I’m going to go through the romantic phase of life again, I could do it again now, potentially. And here’s this new person who’s always exciting and makes me feel exhilarated and happy and high.

It’s another opportunity, even if it wasn’t one that you were consciously looking for. But of course, that’s the sort of rosiest picture of things. If domestic life is less happy, then obviously, you’re even more vulnerable and more psychologically open to other people. Again, if married life is not fulfilling, many people can drift along in an unhappy state. Not deliberately or consciously thinking that, you know, I need to purposefully end this relationship and go and seek another one.

“If married life is not fulfilling, many people can drift along in an unhappy state, not deliberately or consciously thinking to purposefully end the relationship and go and seek another one.”

But when confronted with somebody else and becoming infatuated with somebody else, it clearly then blows up the marriage and all of the unresolved issues that you’ve just left quietly buried just below the surface of the marriage for so long. So, yes. I think that is another very common time that limerent manifests.

I appreciate your experience and your knowledge to be able to assist in just us orienting to some of what’s at play. And before we close in on our time together and while we have you, I would love to spend some time on what do you recommend for people that are in this limerence?

I tend to think about recovery from limerence as having two levels. The first level is, you’re in a state of intense arousal or craving. It’s an altered mental state, neurochemically, and psychologically. And so, you’ve essentially trained yourself unwittingly into behaviors that reinforce the limerence. And if you’re going to recover, you need to take some steps to reverse that training. That’s, if you like, dealing with the emergency of being in this altered state of mind.

The second level is the much deeper level of trying to understand what it is in your personal history that has led you to that point. That is getting to the bottom of what was the psychological vulnerability that made you open to limerence and brought that into your life.

For that second level, I’m not best qualified to advise. I think that is something where a good therapist/clinical psychologists would be able to help people understand. With the precautionary note that Dorothy Tennov herself when she first coined the concept of limerence was actually just openly hostile to psychoanalysis as a strategy because at that time, it was very much focused on things like transference and the development of limerence for the therapist was very common amongst the people that she spoke to. The therapists tended to welcome that as part of the psychoanalytic process.

Now, I don’t know enough about the field but I get the impression that it’s moved on quite a lot since the 1960s. I think the general sense is, I wouldn’t worry too much about the exact school of therapy that you were focused on. It’s more about the rapport with the therapist. So, whatever school of thinking that they follow, if you’ve got good rapport with the therapist, they can help you understand what it is about your personal history and about your life that might have made you vulnerable, and lead you to seek out this limerent object.

For the first level, though, it’s really about breaking the habits that lead you into limerence. In terms of the neurochemistry, it’s actually a relatively predictable sequence of events. You obviously get the pleasurable reward of the feedback from them when things are going well. That makes you high. And then, you seek more of that. And then, like addiction, you go through a series of steps where initially you’re just enjoying the reward. And then, you start seeking the reward. And then, you start craving, the reward. And then, all of your behavior and all of your thinking becomes dominated by the idea of seeking that reward above anything else. And so, really, that’s what you have to break to get yourself out of the sort of the mental state.

And so, I have a number of articles on the site about this. I guess the key steps are, if you possibly can, try to go no contact with your limerent object. So, try and get away from the person because obviously being with them is going to be massively reinforcing. Now, that’s not often practical but you can at least start to limit contact at any time that you have the opportunity to be with them. Try not to take it. And so, sort of turn down the volume on that.

The second thing that I would say is about the reverie and the daydreaming. I personally use the strategy that I termed the daymare strategy. The idea is to turn your daydreams into a nightmare. Most limerent, they develop favorite daydreams about their limerent object. Times when they could be together with them, and fairly elaborate fantasies of events. So, the idea of the daymare strategy is to spoil that. You kind of start the same daydream in the same way, but you’ve wrecked the ending. So instead of a happy ending, you just forced yourself to imagine a terrible ending, where they reject you or you’re exposed to the world and all your other relationships collapse. This is all just happening in your head so nobody is harmed by this. You basically want to try and turn that previous source of pleasure into a source of pain, and kind of just immerse yourself in the negativity of it.

That, I think, helps break the cycle of the sort of positive reward. But the third thing I would say, which is probably the most important aspect of it is, you need to have something positive to look forward to as well. There needs to be an idea of a future goal that will give reward that isn’t linked to this person. That’s the point at which you can start to have a look at your life and start to ask the kind of deeper questions of what do I want in my life? How do I want to live? What kind of person do I want to be? On the LivingWithLimerence site, we call this purposeful living.

So, trying to get into the mindset of, “Well, look. I’m the one that is able to make decisions about how my life will be. I will want to think about what kind of life I want to live. What first step could I take to get from where I am now to that future ideal life that is going to be better and in which I thrive?” I think having that focus on not only kind of diminishing the limerence experience and trying to deprogram yourself out of that mental rut, but to have something new positive to work towards, where you can believe that your life will be better, I think is absolutely critical. So, it’s not all negative. You’ve got the positive as well.

It’s essentially that process of kind of rewriting the script on what’s happening to you, what’s going on in your mind, and then thinking in terms of, “Well, look. I want to have a more purposeful life.” And that would be one in which you will be less vulnerable to limerence because you’ll be more fulfilled, you’ll be pursuing purposeful goals. And so, you’ll be less dependent on other people to give you that sense of emotional reward.

Oh, my goodness, just what you’ve given us in just even these last few minutes is so powerful. It’s really healthy and empowering. Because look, I don’t think anybody is going to change their personality. They’re not going to be extroverted. And then, they’re not going to be sensing and orienting through the world through more thinking and logic. So, it’s almost giving yourself the empowerment of what matters to you and the purpose, but it’s also giving yourself something to work with. Like, if you’re going to be daydreaming already, or if you’re going to be having this rich inner world, why not put it towards something that you do have control over, do have power over. And also, something that really is healthy and beneficial.

Absolutely. Yeah, that healthy goals. Yeah, rather than limerent goals. Again, talking on a personal level, a really important step for me psychologically was recognizing that, “Okay, this limerence has come. It’s been massively disruptive to life and to my marriage. If I can create something good out of this, learn something about myself and the way that I think about the world and the ways that my wife and I communicate with one another, that’s good.” Trying to turn the catastrophe into something positive, into something that we could build from.

I had some advantages. As I said, I have a secure attachment with my wife. I disclosed my feelings to my wife once I realized that this was a problem. And so, we talked about it together and managed to sort of frame what I was going through as a problem that we were going to jointly solve rather than me looking at it as a conflict between my wife and this coworker. No, my wife and I are working together to try and solve this problem, this external threat to our family. So, that was very useful.

I’m fortunate in having a patient wife, who is also a limerent. So, we were limerent for one another when we first met. And so, she could understand what I was going through from a personal perspective. And again, that is going to be a lot harder if you’re trying to negotiate this and your partner is non-limerent because they won’t have had that direct personal experience of what it’s like to go through. But, you know, again, just that idea of rather than seeing it as a terrible event, looking at it as, “Okay, you’re certainly being disruptive but we can build something from the experience and learn something about ourselves and how to live.”

Dr. L, I am in great gratitude for what you’re doing and sharing your time with us today. There’s so much here. How can people get in touch with you, what you’re up to, and what you have to offer?

The easiest way is just to go and visit the site. It’s LivingWithLimerence.com. If people want to get in touch with me directly, there’s a contact form there. I do sometimes run case studies on the site. So, if people want to get in touch and ask about their own specific experience, I am happy to anonymize it. Obviously, I run the site anonymously on the side so that I can be more open and frank. So, I understand the sensitivities around it. If they want to get in touch with me directly, that’s absolutely fine.

The ideas I’ve been talking about I’ve condensed and summarized into a book as well. There is a book, Living With Limerence, available through Amazon. That’s a kind of concise guide to both what limerence is, the neuroscience behind it, and these ideas of how to recover from it, and how to get rid of unwanted limerence. So, that’s the best way.

And on the site, there’s a great community as well. Lots of people commenting regularly. There’s a private forum, which you can join. There’s lots of resources free and paid on the site as well. If you just go to LivingWithLimerence.com/resources, you can see everything that I’ve got to offer.

Well, I will make sure to have the link to your book, Living With Limerence, as well as your website and this direct link to the resources. It just sounds like there’s so much to support people. Thank you again for joining us today.

It’s been great to talk to you.

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching