Limerence is an emotional and mental experience of deep, obsessive attachment to another person. Limerence symptoms usually feel involuntary and are characterized by an intense craving for reciprocity. But how could limerence symptoms become so problematic that a limerence cure is required?
A person in the throes of limerence (often described in the literature as a LE, or Limerence Experiencer) is continuously feeling trapped by an obsessive romantic attachment to a Limerent Object (LO).
Neuroscience is helping us to better understand the disorienting nature of involuntary limerence, and our increased understanding may one day lead to a limerence cure.
For example, we now know that serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that controls mood, is at unusually low levels for the LE, just as it is for people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Why is a limerence cure a good idea?
Typically, a person suffering from limerence (the LE) is unfamiliar with the word. However, as they scour the internet using more popular terms such as “love addiction” or “obsessive Love,” they will eventually encounter the term… limerence.
Many people who suffer from limerence view their state negatively. They may feel impaired or even temporarily insane. Often the LE may feel a profound romantic attachment to an utterly inappropriate limerent object (LO).
The LE often suffers greatly and feels increasingly isolated. Limerence for an inappropriate attractive other has attracted little interest in the field of mental health. There is, for example, no diagnostic criteria, or best-practices treatment plan.
This is because not every LE sees their limerence in a negative light. In fact, I often work with couples who sheepishly describe their early dating as a decidedly pragmatic undertaking. They often ask “was it a mistake for us to marry? We never had any intense cravings or romantic passion. Was that supposed to happen?
What we know about limerence symptoms
Psychologist Dorothy Tennov was the first clinician to explore the limerent state. Her 1979 book, Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love, remains the classic book on limerence. But new research is more keenly focusing on the neuroscience that drives limerence symptoms.
Researchers Wakin & Vo (2008) define limerence as “an involuntary state that involves intrusive, obsessive, and compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are contingent upon perceived emotional reciprocation from the object of interest.”
The difference between love and limerence is a matter of degree. According to Tennov, early feelings of romantic love and limerence may appear congruent; however, it is the very intensity of limerent feeling which can make both the LE and the LO profoundly uncomfortable.
The key aspect of limerence which distinguishes it from healthy attachment is the issue of attaining reciprocity. Limerence subordinates the well-being of the LO. Shared enjoyment and mutuality take a back seat to attain reciprocal intensity. A limerent object is truly an object because their wants needs and desires are subordinated to the LE’s obsession.
In other words, true love gives and receives freely…but limerence craves reciprocity to satisfy what feels like a bottomless hunger.
The most defining characteristic of limerence is that it defies control (Tennov, 1999). It is chaotic in how it upends and disrupts other responsibilities, relationships, interests, and practical considerations.
Limerence is unevenly distributed across the human condition. Tennov’s research shows that limerence was “a certain state that some people were in much of the time, others in some of the time, but still, others never in… or at least not yet” (Tennov, 1979).
The 12 limerence symptoms
Intrusive thinking about the limerent object (LO) primarily as a sexual partner.
Intense longing for reciprocity.
Any actions by the LO significantly impacts the LE’s mood.
Limerence is singularly focused (except perhaps for very early or very late stage limerence).
Fantasies of romantic reciprocity can calm the nervous system temporarily.
The LE may be incredibly fearful of rejection and painfully shy.
Obstacles and adversity can intensify limerent feelings.
The LE looks for signs and imagines hidden passion.
Uncertainty provokes heartache and agitation.
A feeling of lightness of being if reciprocation is perceived and believed.
All other concerns, obligations, or interests fade and are often seriously neglected.
There is little or no perception of any defect or deficit in the beloved LO.
How do limerence symptoms take hold of the brain?
From a perspective of neuroscience, any limerence cure must carefully unpack the way limerence symptoms gradually disorder the mind.
Limerence begins with a process called crystallization.
Crystallization is an intense awareness of attractive traits, while less desirable traits are mostly ignored.
In other words, the image of the attractive other, (the perfect partner in their head) is shaped to conform to a pre-determined, externally derived romantic conception (Tennov, 1979).
In other words, limerence is a perfect bubble unencumbered by reality.
The first crystallization is when approximately 30% of waking thought is preoccupied with the LO.
When you are starting to notice intrusive thoughts about an attractive other, this would be an enjoyable time to get a therapist and start a protocol for your limerence cure.
The interplay of the LE and the LO are the main factors that may lead to the highly problematic second crystallization.
Once your brain tips into obsessive despair or ecstasy, your beloved will consume nearly 100% of your waking thought.
At this point, limerence throbs and undulates with each interaction you have with your Limerent object.
Powerful neurochemicals are involved with the onset of limerence symptoms. These chemicals are Oxytocin, Norepinephrine, Dopamine, Testosterone, Estrogen, Phenylethylamine, and others as well.
What do we know about a limerence cure?
Inappropriate or non-reciprocated limerence typically expands until it slams against a hard boundary.
LE’s aspire to be in the eternal presence of the beloved.
Consequently, real-world stalking and cyber-stalking often create legal problems for those suffering from limerence symptoms. Cultural belief warns us that stalkers are dangerous, but research suggests that overall, limerent stalkers tend to be less dangerous (Mullen, Pathe & Purcell, 2000).
The person on the receiving end of a limerent obsession sometimes becomes increasingly confused and uncomfortable. Long overdue appropriate boundaries coming from their LO often leave the LE stunned and forlorn.
But more often, the source of a boundary on runaway limerence comes from a spouse or family. If, and when, your limerent affair is discovered, life changes… because new boundaries are established, and decisions must be made. This is where science-based couples therapy can help keep you recover from inappropriate limerence and keep your family intact.
While some LE protests their unfair treatment, research tells us that most people suffering from limerence begin to come to their senses when the object of their obsession (or significant others) establish firm boundaries.
Guidelines for a limerence cure
So, if you suffer from inappropriate limerence, and a boundary is forced upon you…we know a few things from the research that can help you. Here the essential elements for any self-directed limerence cure:
- A sense of restlessness often precedes limerence symptoms. Maintaining a strong marriage long-term can be challenging. Make sure you get plenty of exercises, take vacations, and make room for novel experiences with your partner. Make sure your self-care is solid. A life of quiet desperation is a breeding ground for limerent infidelity.
- Fortunately, most infidelity does not involve limerence, although it is widely feared by most hurt partners.
- Limerence is a substantial stressor on both body and brain. While in limerence, you may consume more “comfort” food laden with fat, sugar, and salt (Hargreaves, 2012). Helen Fisher (2004) suggests a limerence cure diet that can help you to stabilize your mood; start with eating regular meals (especially breakfast).
- Eat foods containing tryptophan to increase serotonin such as salmon and organically raised chicken. Eat yogurt, and take an Omega 3 supplement and 5HTP supplement as well (Hargreaves, 2012).
- There is perhaps no situation more heartbreaking than infidelity-based limerence when the LE does not want to end their marriage…or the affair. Affair recovery is about 40% of our work here at CTI. An essential element of dealing with limerence which stems from an affair is handling grief and deciding to end the affair.
- SSRI’s may curtail the impact of limerence by changing the level of Serotonin in the brain. But while many people experience a curbing of limerent passion, others have reported quite the opposite, and have even experienced mania.
- The uncertainty of knowing whether your beloved will reciprocate causes your brain’s reward centers to work overtime, releasing more dopamine when you are feeling hopeful. From a neurochemical perspective, your brain has essentially become addicted to your limerent object.
- Tennov tells us that the best cure for limerence is no contact (NC). Most people suffering from limerence may need to change their lifestyle in order to reduce the possibility of encountering their LO. That means you might have to move, change jobs, find a new social circle…you get the picture. And no, as much as you’d like to, you can’t ramp things down and be “just friends.”
- Although Tennov’s book preceded the internet age, we can safely conclude that no contact (NC) applies to online behavior as well. It may behoove you to defriend and delete all social media pathways to your LO.
- Another important tool for people who have successfully recovered from limerence is understanding the limerent timeline. The brain can recover. Research tells us that 4-6 months of NC allows the brain to create a new understanding of the limerence narrative. When the object of your overheated affection is no longer a regular feature of your daily life, space opens for you to take back control of your mind.
- Externalization is also a helpful concept. Think of Limerence as “the feeling I get when I’m around them.” Your mind needs a break to externalize the imagination that plagues you from the actual physical nervous system firestorm you endure in their presence.
- Limerence is something that happens within you…not between you. The reward cascade in your brain is activated and stuck in overdrive. That’s why we call your beloved your limerent object...to impress upon you that your unfortunate situation is far more to do with your brain than anything or anyone else.
- Some people externalize in this way…”When I have no contact with my LO, I avoid the feeling of new pain.”
- For some people with inappropriate limerence, (such as a workplace affair) having no contact is simply not an option. For these people, limited contact (LC) is the best practice. This requires firm boundaries to avoid unnecessary contact and to curb the content of conversations to only essential business communication.
- Neuroscience has helped us understand a profound trigger in limerence symptoms; eye contact. The human gaze can produce real physiological changes and release neurochemicals such as oxytocin (Moore, 2008) which can trigger an addictive sense of well-being (Uvas-Moberg & Francic, 2003). This is called the Glimmer.
- Any limerence cure which is science-based must involve a deliberate effort to avoid covetous eye contact during a limited contact limerence cure protocol. Curbing Glimmer experiences is an essential aspect of any limerence cure.
- In emotional arousal, the pupil size dilates (Bradley, Miccoli, Escrig & lang, 2008). The cast of the eye in a Glimmer gaze provides a real feedback cue for interaction (Marris, 1973).
- Limiting eye contact is a critical behavior to master if you are working toward a cure for your limerence.
- Disclosing your symptoms of limerence can have a dampening effect on their intensity. Disclosure is a pragmatic and therapeutic aspect of any limerence cure.
- But who you disclose to and why should begin with the end in mind.
- Get a therapist to help you. Disclose your inappropriate limerent attachment to your therapist. It will help you get the obsessive thoughts out of your head and into the open.
- A good therapist can help you to consider whether a disclosure to other people in your life is prudent, given your situation.
- People who suffer from limerence to an inappropriate person can and do change their compulsive behavior. The neurochemicals of limerence tend to fade over time. In fact, most limerent brains recover within 36 months or less.
Resources for those suffering from inappropriate limerence:
A great website and support forum, http://limerence.net/, is for those impacted by the pain of limerence. Whether you define your limerence symptoms as suffering from unrequited love, love-addiction, obsessive love, romantic infatuation, or affair recovery, the limerence.net forum might help you in your recovery.
It’s a place for those pursuing a cure for their limerence. While it can’t take the place of in-person therapy, it can be an important first step in realizing that you are not alone and that you don’t have to suffer in silence. If you’ve ended your affair, but still suffer from symptoms of limerence, Good couples therapy can help with that.
Do you want a stronger marriage after you recover from inappropriate limerence?
Originally published October 22, 2019.
Bradley, N.M., Miccoli, L. Escrig, Ma. A., Lang, P.J. (2008) The pupils as a measure of Emotional arousal. Psychophysiology, 45 4 602-607.
Fisher, H. E. (2004) Why We Love; The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. New York. St. Martin’s Griffin.
Hargreaves, J. (2012) Nutrition Therapy Practitioner.
Moore, C. (2008) The development of Gaze Following. Child Development Perspectives. 2 66-70.
Mullen, P.E. Pathr, M., Purcell, R. (2000) Stalkers and Their Victims. Cambridge. University Press.
Tennov, D. (1979) Love and Limerence; The experience of Being in Love. New York. Scarborough House.
Unvas-Moberg, K., Francis.W.R. (2003) The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love, and healing. Da Capro press.
Wakin, A., Vo, D.B. (2008) Love-variant: The Wakin-Vo I.D.R. Model of Limerence. Inter-Disciplinary-Net 2nd Global Conference; Challenging Intimate Boundaries.