Originally published January 31, 2017.

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” in her 1979 book about the intense experience of being in love.

Throughout her extensive research on romantic love, she amassed a trove of personal accounts about falling in love. Her methods were through questionnaires, interviews, and letters from readers.

She wanted to prove her theory that a specific psychological state occurs in everyone. This state is not influenced by culture, education, gender, or other characteristics. Tennov emphasized that she solely derived her findings from volunteered verbal reports detailing their experiences with love.

Origins of Limerence

Limerence finds its roots in the intricate neurobiology of human bonding. It often stems from a potent cocktail of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. These chemicals surge through the brain, generating feelings:

  • of euphoria,
  • excitement, and
  • an almost addictive craving for the object of affection.

The onset of limerence typically arises from a combination of factors:

  • a sense of novelty,
  • physical attraction, and
  • emotional resonance.

Initial encounters, shared experiences, or even perceived similarities trigger the brain’s reward system, fostering an idealized perception of the person of interest.

Impact of limerence

Limerence is an early stage of love which is similar in its effect to drug intoxication. These drugs include oxytocin, dopamine, phenylethylamine (PEA), testosterone, estrogen, serotonin, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for starters. The heady chemical soup produces the physical symptoms highly correlated to early romantic love.

Limerence is a highly emotional state. You have intrusive thoughts and can’t stop thinking about your limerent person. You may have less hunger and difficulty sleeping, and your mind constantly focuses on a romantic obsession.

Why does this happen with some people and not others? You could be drifting around in a casual dating scene. But then you meet someone who seems perfect. Like a switch being thrown, all the Lovelights suddenly flash on, with your beloved firmly in the spotlight.

But limerence isn’t always mutual and can be a perfect misery when it is one-sided.

Unrequited romantic love is an ancient human torment. Limerence lowers the fear response, which is why unrequited love can be reckless and bold. Oxytocin also conveniently closes our eyes to contradictory negative information about our beloved.

Limerence isn’t a Necessary Component to Love

A cultural myth suggests that the fireworks of limerence are a prerequisite for lasting love. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Being infatuated doesn’t ensure lasting marital happiness, nor does its absence mean a lousy match.

Not all healthy relationships start in limerence, however prized and familiar a human experience may be.

Limerence is a natural process. It is both evolutionary and beyond a personal experience. It is the body’s way of saying, “Our genes would be a good match.”

The goal is for the species, not the individual, to achieve the best genetic outcome. The best way is to highjack your common sense as quickly as possible. Limerence is a chemical taskmaster that drives us to pursue, bond and mate. Think of it as a wobbly chemical bridge to the possibility of building trust and commitment.

How Long does limerence Last?

After 18 months to two years, limerence, which refers to the intense infatuation or obsession with someone, gradually diminishes. This phenomenon occurs as a result of the brain’s natural processes. These become initially become hijacked by the overwhelming emotions associated with limerence.

However, as time passes, the intensity of limerence gradually fades. This fading happens because of various factors.

One is the brain’s natural tendency to adapt and habituate to prolonged emotional states. The brain becomes accustomed to the presence of the romantic partner. When that happens, the initial surge of chemicals subside. The individual’s emotional state returns to a more balanced level.

Once the limerence phase subsides, the success and longevity of the relationship falls upon the individuals involved. Limerence starts the bond, but it’s the couple’s responsibility to care for and keep their relationship strong. This involves effective communication, mutual understanding, compromise, and shared goals and values.

Biology is not concerned with your interpersonal happiness. Limerence is a biological reflex. And biology also doesn’t value your thoughts, opinions, or better judgment.

Once the thrill of falling in love fades, a completely different set of questions emerges. Interestingly, when the intense infatuation fades, some of your partner’s charming qualities can start annoying and causing problems. New questions become pressing.

  • “Can I count on you to do what you agreed to do?
  • Am I important to you or are you using me?
  • Will you put my needs on a par with your own or be self-centered?”

This immediate post-limerence phase is all about building mutual trust.

Trust is the foundation for lasting intimacy but limerence is not.

Trust-building is the next step toward a union that lasts. This trust phase is also a selective process. Trust is a flaming hoop you both jump through to finally commit to each other.

In order to avoid being attracted to other people, it is crucial to trust and stay committed to one another. This will help prevent the emergence of new feelings of love for someone else.

First, limerence, then trust, then commitment.

The fading of limerence doesn’t always mean love or affection is decreasing. Instead, it signifies the transition from the initial infatuation stage to a more stable and mature form of love.

This love is often characterized by a deeper emotional connection, trust, and a sense of companionship. But the chemicals of romantic love are pretty particular and highly focused. The final stage of commitment adds fondness, admiration, and shared meaning and purpose to our intimate lives.

Commitment is emblematic of purpose and a sense of something larger than ourselves.

Research shows that couples who didn’t have an early infatuation phase often feel very self-conscious. They may express anxiety that they somehow “missed out” on a beautiful human experience. They may even question the suitability of their choice. Such is the power of cultural programming.

The following statement violates a deeply held cultural belief:

Research indicates that being infatuated does not ensure a successful relationship. Additionally, the absence of infatuation does not imply that the relationship is inferior or destined to fail.

How do you know if relationship differences are serious?

A commitment must navigate the negotiation of differences. “We have nothing in common” is a common complaint from our couples at CTI.

However, the research shows that the most happily intimate couples often have significant differences. Nature loves diversity and difference. But some differences are relationally significant.

How you both engage your emotions and the emotions of intimate others: love, fear, sadness, joy, these differences matter.

If there is what Gottman calls a “meta-emotional mismatch,” that could indicate a problem area. Couples therapy may be useful in that case.

Another area in which the research shows a steep divide concerns the issue of having children. This is also a serious issue. If that’s the case, it’s advisable to seek counseling before getting married. This will allow you to address the disagreement in values at an early stage.

Commitment is deceptively simple. It wants a relationship to last and does what it takes to secure its success.

Our Couples Retreat is a perfect opportunity to restore trust and commitment with your partner.

Rebuild Your Marital Trust