If you’ve ever experienced intense romantic obsessions towards someone and frequently fantasize about him or her, you may think this is a classic case of being in love. But in actual fact, psychologists have come to refer to this kind of emotional state as limerence, as something distinct from true romantic love. Love is stable, healthy, and deeply intimate, whereas limerence is based on obsession, an overly positive evaluation of another person, emotional dependency, and an intense need for reciprocation.
Limerence is the addictive, drug-like, highly emotional aspect of romantic attraction. For a lot of people, it can be unhealthy, affecting the rest of your life and your mental health. Yet it’s a common experience that many go through. If it’s something you’ve gone through or you’re currently experiencing it, what can you do about it? Let’s explore some possible solutions.
The first thing you want to do is recognize limerence for what it is. One of the main reasons limerence can lead to emotional issues for people is that it is often mistaken for love. If you can recognize limerence as more about getting a ‘fix’ rather than being with the ideal partner for you, then you can save yourself a lot of disappointment if the person you’re obsessing about doesn’t reciprocate or doesn’t reciprocate to the same degree as you.
Recognizing limerence can also give you some room to question whether you’re engaging in behaviors that are in your best interest or the best interest of the limerent object (this is the term that psychologist Dorothy Tennov uses to denote a person who another person craves).
Understand Yourself Better
Limerence is completely normal and widespread, but in individual cases, there are usually reasons why a particular person becomes a limerent object. Some of these reasons might be cultural, such as the images, stories, and notions we’re fed about romantic love, but other reasons can be personal. For example, early childhood experiences – such as experiences of being neglected or your relationship with your parents – can influence the kind of person you become intensely attracted to.
While one part of you is automatically and strongly telling you that you need to be with the limerent object, based on unconscious and ingrained forces, another part of you – your ‘gut instinct’ or intuition – may be telling you the person isn’t right for you. Understanding yourself better can help you to both avoid toxic relationships or be more grounded in relationships based on limerence and make better decisions.
Limerence is not always something to be concerned about. But if your experience of limerence does feel out-of-control, distressing, and disruptive to your life, then exploring the root causes of this in therapy could be a useful option.
Give the Relationship Some Time to Develop
Relationships based on limerence, where one or both partners experience limerence, can later turn into stable, loving partnerships. Limerence can be quite short-lasting, so after a few months, say, that ‘falling madly in love’ feeling can subside, with partners becoming more deeply acquainted and intimate with one another, leading to the calmer bonding of love.
Tennov points out that most relationships are characterized by limerent-nonlimerent bonding. Over time, these relationships can become more mutual. However, if you’re the person experiencing limerence in the limerent-nonlimerent bonding, you might feel the person is not meeting your needs and isn’t right for you, which isn’t necessarily true. It’s a hard thing to do, but if you can separate the limerent side of you from the part of your that realistically understands the limerent object’s qualities, then you decide for yourself whether the relationship is mutually beneficial, despite the intense, intrusive thoughts you’re also having about this person.
Don’t Let Limerence Consume Your Life
Keep in mind that there isn’t always a cure for limerence. But you can prevent yourself from the unhealthiest aspects of limerence. You can do this by ensuring that you have a full and satisfying life, irrespective of whether you get your fix from the limerent object. Part of the trap of limerence is that it can make you think this person is the most important thing in your life, that all your energy, time, and attention should be dedicated to thinking about the limerent object and trying to be with him or her.
It is easier to become unhealthily obsessed about someone if you feel there’s not much else going on in your life. However, if you are already busy with a career, people, and hobbies you care about, and stay focused on these things in the midst of limerence, then limerence will be less likely to cause you any major issues for you.