Limerence is an early stage of love which is similar in its effect to drug intoxication. What drugs? 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.

You can’t stop thinking about your intended. You probably also have a reduced appetite, trouble sleeping, and have been cognitively hijacked into a perpetual 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 just seems perfect. It’s like a switch is thrown, and all the Lovelights suddenly flash on, with your beloved, firmly in the spotlight.

But limerence isn’t always mutual. It can be a perfect misery when it is one-sided. Unrequited romantic love in an ancient human torment. Limerence lowers the fear response, which is why unrequited love can be reckless and bold. Oxytocin also conveniently blinds us to any contradictory negative information about our beloved.

Limerence isn’t a Necessary Component for Love

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

Being in limerence does not guarantee long-term marital happiness, any more than it’s absence indicates a poor match.

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

Romantic songwriters might hate the fact, but limerence is only a biochemical cascade that is fundamentally evolutionary and trans-personal. It’s the body’s way of saying “I like how you fill out my genes.”

It’s about the species achieving the best genetic outcome. The best way to do that 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.

Limerence…The Bridge over the quivered sigh…..

How Long does Limerence Last?

After 18 months to two years…the “thrill is gone.” And the bridge might blow sky high if you’re not careful.

Limerence doesn’t stick around. Limerence hijacks the brain just long enough to achieve a genetically robust pair-bond suitable for reproduction.  Once you are paired off, the rest is up to you.

Biology is not concerned with your interpersonal happiness. Limerence is kind of biologic reflex. And biology also doesn’t care about your thoughts, opinions, or better judgment.

After the thrill is gone, an entirely different set of questions arise. Ironically, upon the fading of limerence, some of your partner’s “cute and endearing traits” become sources of frequent irritation and friction. New questions come up.

“Can I count on you? Am I important to you? Will you put my needs on a par with your own?”

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

Trust is the foundation for lasting intimacy. 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 that you both jump through into finally committing to each other.

Unless you can successfully build trust and can commit to each other, you’ll leave the door open for fresh limerence to occur with potential new partners, and for those of us who are monogamous… that’s the worst that could happen.

Limerence… then Trust… then Commitment

There are those who say that polyamory can work, and for some, perhaps it can.

But the chemicals of romantic love are quite 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.

Interestingly enough, research tells us that couples who did not experience an early-onset limerence phase often feel profoundly self-conscious.

They may express anxiety that they somehow “missed out” on a wonderful human experience. They may even question the suitability of their choice. Such is the power of cultural programming.

This next statement violates a deeply held cultural belief:

Research clearly indicates that limerence is no guarantee of relational success, and the absence of limerence is no assurance of relational inferiority or failure.

How Do You Know if Differences are Serious?

A commitment must navigate the negotiation of differences. “We have nothing in common” is a common complaint we hear 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 important.

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

If there is what Gottman calls a “meta-emotional mismatch” in a couple, that could indicate a problem area that may invite some working out in couples therapy.

Another area the research shows a steep divide concerns the issue of having children. This is also a red flag.

If one of you wants children, and the other does not, it might be wise to seek pre-marital counseling to sort out this value conflict as early in the relationship as possible.

Commitment is deceptively simple… it is wanting a relationship to last, and doing what it takes to secure its success.

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

Originally published January 31, 2017.

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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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