So just exactly what is limerence?  I had never heard of the term before but it has come up a few times on the blog and in a brief description in one of the books I’ve read.  I also stumbled upon a forum discussion about whether or not limerence is the same as an emotional affair or only a component of an emotional affair. 

Naturally, I felt it might be of interest to you guys and therefore needed further looking into.  I’ll let you guys draw your own conclusions based on your own situations.

What is Limerence?

Limerence is a term coined by the psychologist Dorothy Tennov to describe an involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated.

According to Tennov, there are three types of love: limerence, what she calls “loving attachment” (the long-lasting love people are capable of having), and “loving affection,” the bond that exists between an individual and his or her parents and children.

Tennov naturally authored a book on the subject called, “Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love.”

Some Characteristics of Limerence

what is limerence
What is limerence? Sometimes it’s interpreted as infatuation, but it is much more than that.

Limerence is sometimes also interpreted as infatuation.  Similar to infatuation, limerence may dissolve soon after it starts.  However, in many limerent situations, the infatuation-like state transforms to a point where the attractive characteristics of the limerent object are exaggerated and any unattractive characteristics are paid no attention.

Limerence is also “characterized by intrusive thinking and pronounced sensitivity to external events that reflect the disposition of the limerent object towards the individual, and can be experienced as intense joy or as extreme despair, depending on whether the feelings are reciprocated.  Basically, it is the state of being completely carried away by unreasoned passion or love, even to the point of addictive-type behavior.”   This state is often characterized as being in a fantasy world.

A person in limerence has the intense desire for the feelings that they have for another to be reciprocated. However, even if they are not reciprocated, the limerent feelings can continue on unaltered.

Additionally, it is not essential for there to be physical contact with the limerent object and may in fact, not even be sufficient to the person in limerence.

Additional Components of Limerence

Limerence has more basic components:

  • Some fleeting and transient relief from unrequited limerence through vivid imagining of action by the limerent object that means reciprocation.
  •  Fear of rejection and unsettling shyness in the limerent object’s presence.
  •  Intensification through adversity.
  •  Acute sensitivity to any act, thought, or condition that can be interpreted favorably, and an extraordinary ability to devise, fabricate, or invent “reasonable” explanations for why neutral actions are a sign of hidden passion in the limerent object.
  •  A general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background.
  •  A remarkable ability to emphasize what is truly admirable in the limerent object and to avoid dwelling on the negative or render it into another positive attribute.

Limerence, Love and the Emotional Affair

Relational Psychotherapist Dr. J. Richard Cookerly says that in the beginning limerence often “starts as a nearly imperceptible set of feelings of mild attraction which can grow into enormous intensity making people think they are very much in love.  Then two to four years later the limerence process winds down causing all the ‘in love’ feelings to start fading out and closing down.  Sometimes this happens quite rapidly.”

Further, Cookerly states that, “Once in a great while limerence can precede the development of healthy, real couple-love if a couple works at it, but usually not.  Sometimes the condition runs its course in less than the usual two to four year long duration and sometimes lasts longer than that average.

What can be somewhat unique is that two people can become limerent with each other simultaneously, sometimes it’s one person who is limerent and the other truly in love, and sometimes just one person is limerent and the other has no reciprocal feelings.

It almost sounds as if it can be like a junior high crush on someone to an extent.

Dr. Cookerly also offers a list of 15 limerence symptoms, of which having at least seven of the symptoms is sufficient to qualify for being seen as probably in limerence and not really in a true, healthy love state.  (You can check out the symptoms, along with the rest of his excellent article on his site.)

In any new romantic relationship, most people go through a phase where they are involved in idealizing the object of their interest, where they are experiencing at least some euphoria from the romantic “high,” and where they spend an awful lot of time and energy thinking about the other person and wondering whether their interest is reciprocated.

Usually, this sort of thing is resolved in fairly short order. Someone makes a move, which is either accepted or rejected. If it’s rejected then it hurts, but you move on. If it’s accepted, then the relationship plays out –  for better or for worse. But sometimes the wheels spin in place. The relationship isn’t taken forward. It isn’t resolved. The romantic tension builds. The idealization becomes even more extreme.  It becomes crystallized. The frequent thoughts become obsessive. The desire for reciprocation becomes greater, but so does the fear of rejection. This usually happens when there is some sort of “barrier” involved.

For young people, that barrier might be a problem with social skills, peer pressure, parental disapproval, adolescent insecurity, etc. It can also be the case that the “barrier” is the limerent object him or herself – who does not, in fact, reciprocate, but who might, for whatever reason, send out “mixed messages.” Maybe they are just a flirt. Maybe they like the attention. Maybe they are just a naturally friendly person who likes you as a friend, but doesn’t see you as a serious romantic object. In those cases, the limerent person suspects that the relationship is one-sided, but finds small bits of hope here and there, to keep their interest alive.

While delving more into some limerence support group forums I found the interesting notion that limerence thrives on barriers. So, it is not terribly uncommon for two individuals to become limerent over one another when one or both are married or otherwise attached to other people.  The interest may be reciprocated or perhaps it’s not, but it gets stuck, because there’s no (good) place for it to go.

One forum participant noted that although in some situations limerence is indeed reciprocated, it may not be consummated, and this can prolong the limerent experience indefinitely. If the pair is able to resist a physical affair, but bond under the guise of being “friends”, then it is possible for them to have an emotional affair. However, the fact that they are doing so does not mean that the limerence they are experiencing is diminished.

In short, it appears that it is quite possible to be limerent in an emotional affair and that perhaps most emotional infidelity is born of and sustained by limerence.

On the other side of the coin, an emotional affair can possibly entail some elements of limerence or it can involve very little limerence at all.

As an example of this, another forum participant offered the following: 

“Let’s assume that two people are already committed to other long-term relationships. For whatever reason, those other relationships have lost their romantic edge. Maybe they make great companions and business partners and parenting partners, etc., but the “thrill is gone.” Then the married persons fall “in love” with one another. This may go both ways. The other person might acknowledge that they feel the same way, but they don’t take it to a physical level…the point is that both parties might have spilled their guts to one another and know how they feel. There isn’t a lot of uncertainty. That may eventually give rise to “limerence” (as a romantic obsession born out of pure frustration and insecurity over its course) but it doesn’t have to. But there are often “overlap” situations where you have an emotional situation that’s gradually developing (for at least one party) and the other may or may not be aware of it. Or, they may be interested, but just less excited about or invested in it. But the uncertainty, together with the marital barrier, keeps things from going forward. Next thing you know, one party may be romantically obsessing about the other – who might or might not reciprocate.”

So, it seems that sometimes emotional affairs may not involve any great degree of limerence and sometimes they do.  Confused yet?

In my research of limerence, it appears that it can develop because a person starts looking for external sources of love, affirmation and validation.  Ultimately that person can only find that within their self and possibly within their current relationship.

Many of those who are limerent have low self-esteem, are people pleasers, have had attachment issues when they were young and are emotionally immature. There are also many similarities with those people who are considered to be love addicts.

The limerent person may find it helpful to look within, as well as to analyze their relationship with their spouse or partner to see what could have triggered their limerence.  Hopefully this will result in being able to fill their life with much more positive things like improved honesty and communication within their committed relationship, along with discovering other activities and situations that will improve their self-esteem and sense of self worth.

I’d be interested to hear what you think about limerence and how it relates to your affair or your spouse’s affair.  Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


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    22 replies to "What is Limerence and is it the Same as an Emotional Affair?"

    • Notoverit

      Hey Doug, great post! Gave me a lot to think about. I ran through the list of symptoms with my husband and he hit ten out of fifteen with his EA. I read further on Dr. Cookerly’s website and looked at his definition of real love. It has given me a great deal to think about and talk to my H about. Thank you for staying on top of things and keeping us knowledgeable about different views.

    • Healing Mark

      Thought this might be a useful topic to look at for those who have exerienced an affair during what they thought was supposed to be a monogamous relationship. I knew nothing about what some have labeled “limerence” and also nothing about “emotional affairs” when I first started noticing changes in my wife’s behavior and began to suspect that not only that she might be more than “just good friends” with a then good friend of mine (or so I thought!), but also that she might be having, or be about to, a physical affair with her AP. Nevertheless, when you see your significant other experiencing the feelings and effect described in this post and Dr. Cookerly’s article, you can’t help but feel like something’s up and that it’s highly doubtful that this is going to lead to anything good. What I found to be the most difficult aspect of dealing with the fact that my wife began experincing these types of feelings/attraction to another person was the fact that there was little, if anything, I could do to make them end. In fact, the more I tried to be more of a loving and attentive partner, the more it made her angry and resentful of me as I was ‘getting in the way”. Sheesh!

      When my wife and I first started counseling, I brought up my concerns about my wife’s “limerance behaviours” (I didn’t call them these at that time) and questioned whether she was having an affair. Some of my more troubling concerns found in Dr. Cookerly’s list were #’s 4, 8, 10 and 11. Many of the feelings my wife was experiencing that are found on this list were feelings I did not know my wife was experiencing, but later learned that she was (my wife lied to me and our counselor during the joint sessions that I questioned her about her affair, but she immediately confessed to her lies to the counselor at her next individual session – which is exactly why we did both types of sessions with the same counselor – and then she and the counselor worked at identifying the existence and effects of these feelings/behaviours including the many ways they were harming me and our marriage). There is so much found in this post that corresponds to my wife and her EA, and nobody is likely to be particularly interested in such personal details. However, the statement that limerence thrives on barriers, like two people being married and unwilling to end their marriages and unwilling to have a physical affair, rings very true to me.

      Not to condone my wife’s or any other CS’s actions taken after they begin to develop strong feelings for another person, but putting myself in their shoes, I can see how otherwise well intentioned people could begin to act contrary to their normal selves due to these types of feelings and the “highs” obtained when these feelings were reciprocated by an AP. My wfe felt less loved by me at the time she “fell” for her AP, and admits to needing more affirmation and validation of her looks and self-worth at that time than I was giving to her. She now readily admits that she should have better communicated these needs to me rather than “use” her newly developing relationship to have these needs met. For us, we don’t use studies like Dr. Cooksly’s as excuses for what happened to us, but we do let them help us attempt to understand what we thought would otherwise be unexplainable – the beginning, maintenance of and thankfully ending of my wife’s EA.

    • Dave

      This comment sums up my wife, “In my research of limerence, it appears that it can develop because a person starts looking for external sources of love, affirmation and validation. Ultimately that person can only find that within their self and possibly within their current relationship. Many of those who are limerent have low self-esteem, are people pleasers, have had attachment issues when they were young and are emotionally immature.”

      During her affair, my wife saw her AP at a concert with another woman. The woman was only a friend, but my wife felt rejected and used by her AP. She claims she was already starting to tire of the lies and sneaking around, but that this episode marked the real being of the end of her affair.

      I believe she was infatuated with her AP, but she was also experiencing limerence because her “feelings” for her AP lingered for quite a while. I think those feelings also lingered because she never had to face what she had done since she kept her affair a secret (or she thought she had, even though I caught her with her AP).

      Two years later when she found out she was pregnant with our second child, she felt compelled to write her AP. I still don’t know the details of that letter, but I find it very disturbing that she wrote him at all.

    • WriterWife

      Thanks for such a great post! I’m definitely also checking out those links. All of this is very familiar in my own situation. One of the frustrating aspects of limerence is that it can thrive on barriers which, as you pointed out, almost always automatically exist when there’s a marriage. That confusion feeds it just ups the ante — especially since it seems in a lot of EA it takes a while before the romantic feelings are out in the open and so there’s a lot of trying to read into situations which again feeds the confusion and limerence.

    • chiffchaff

      If limerence thrives on barriers then all the secrecy and lying and sneaking about, as well as that ‘they shouln’t be doing it’ feelings must explain why marital affairs seem to progress so much faster than normal non-affair relationships.

    • Jackie

      This makes a lot of sense, but understanding doesn’t make it easier. But how is limerance much different than infatuation or that “in love” feeling of early stage romance? Barriers seem to add to the excitement and duration of the feelings it seems. Even though my H read about Limerence early on in the EA, it has been very difficult for him to stop the obsessing of the OW. The unrequited love feeling, makes one long for it more. It seems H feeds his drug need to feel high off of it. Granted it is a safer source than alcohol or drugs, but it is very dangerous to our marriage, relationship, and family. It makes me so sad that he just won’t work with me together on this relationship, he insists on doing it his way. The slow painful long journey.

    • Rachel

      So Jackie does this mean that you are just waiting for him to decide what he is going to do with your future?
      This is how I feel for me. He is not ready to make a decision what to do with our marriage so basically he’s in the driver seat. He told me to do whatever I have to do which I thought was pretty heartless but so typical of the new him.
      It makes me sad too that my husband won’t work on our marriage. I’m so confused since this was his affair. I’m in therapy, I see a shrink, I’m on meds and he’s just in he’s own world and doesn’t seem to be hurting like me. Good luck, Jackie.

      • Anita

        I am a Christian woman, and I found that Bible study and
        prayer helped me through those difficult times.
        Sometimes when storms come into our lives, and we have
        no idea what direction life is going to take us, I found my
        security in God, and not in others.
        The more my faith and trust in God grew, the less dependent I become on others. So no matter what choices
        others make, it doesn’t shipwreck me, instead I become
        stronger, and my faith in God continues to be a awesome
        If your husband doesn’t see the wonderful catch you are
        then its his loss. Forgive him.

    • Anita

      You are responsible for your own inner happiness, that
      can only come from God, and not others. When others
      hurt us and they will, because that is life, we need to forgive
      them, and move forward from those past hurts.
      Also let God be in your drivers seat, so when these storms
      hit, he is there for you. But you have to make the choice
      to surrender and let God heal you.

    • Anna

      My divorce is nearing its finality. After 26 years of marriage, my husband decided to begin a 3 year affair with a much younger co-worker. He insists that she is absolutely perfect in every way, and that she was not the reason we are getting divorced. He also emphatically insists that he did not leave me for her, yet he tells everyone that this woman is a huge part of his life…his “true other half”. If that is the case, why is it that he has never introduced her to our three teenagers, nor does he ever mention her name to them? What is keeping him from admitting to me and to our children that the affair is still ongoing? They go on vacations together, he has introduced her to his sisters, yet he has never even spoken of her to our kids. They know all about her, as she has been a co-worker of his for many years, and that he admitted to them two years ago that he fell out of love with me and in love with her. And why is he dragging this divorce out? Call me confused, but if one spouse falls in love with someone else, moves out, buys a house, starts divorce mediation, and agrees to 50/50 custody, what is keeping him from finalizing the deal and introducing his true love to his kids? They are 18, 16, and 13. Her kids are 6 and 8.

      • Doug

        Anna, I can only surmise that he is too ashamed, guilty or otherwise fears the consequences if he did so. My brother in law’s kids are so mad at him for his affair and for the pain he caused their mom that they want nothing to do with the OW. Also, the relationship between my BIL and his kids is forever damaged and who knows if they will ever want much to do with him either. At this point he acknowledges all of this but remains in his own little bubble and feels it will eventually all blow over.

    • Gizfield

      I love this article! It pretty much describes every relationship I have been in, except my current marriage, lol. And I think my husband felt this for someone else. Ugh.I always just wondered if I was a sociopath or something…it s like I was totally and completely “in love” with these guys.then a switch flipped and it was totally gone, forever! wow, I think our culture actually idealises this kind of crap. I also believe it can exist in long term relationships if they are dysfunctional enough. “I love you reaalll bad!” Like on cops, seriously.

    • Lynn

      Link to his site is broken..

    • Julie

      Thank you for these posts. A few years back, I suffered from an episode of ‘limerence’, an extremely intense crush I felt for a man online. It could have developed into an emotional affair. I was strong, though, and stopped looking for and writing to the other man- out of sight and out of mind! It took over 3 years- but the limerence feelings have run their course, and I don’t think about that man much anymore.
      Now I can feel thankful for the 20 year marriage to my husband, and keep working on keeping the love and bond secure.

    • Ron

      Greetings from a fellow sufferer. I have come across a kind of funny – tragic case study on blogger. It’s called ‘Limerence In The Age Of Terror’ Sometimes it’s just comforting to know there’s always someone less fortunate than yourself.

    • Mary

      Interesting article. I can’t help but relate this back to the Twin Flame quackery thats currently trending on a bunch of spiritual sites. Check it out if you havent already..fascinating how many so called psychics will take advantage of people clearly in limerance to feed them a bunch of lies about uniting their ‘twin half’..its astounding.
      I wonder if anyone else out there has thought the same.

    • E-A

      Thanks for the post, it is so accurate, particularly this:

      In my research of limerence, it appears that it can develop because a person starts looking for external sources of love, affirmation and validation. Ultimately that person can only find that within their self and possibly within their current relationship.

      Many of those who are limerent have low self-esteem, are people pleasers, have had attachment issues when they were young and are emotionally immature. There are also many similarities with those people who are considered to be love addicts.

      My DH experienced a major life crisis last year when he was made redundant from a job he had given everything to for 20 years. The method of redundancy was cruel – unprepared, sudden, undermining, a betrayal. My DH had already suffered from low self esteem, alcohol issues, relationship attachment disorder issues, and this devastated him. Our marriage had been improving greatly and this took him right back to square one. Sadly, I had my own issues at the same time because my mother was very seriously ill and there was no one but me to look after her so I had to be away alot just at the time my husband was leaving work.
      At this time my DH’s first ‘proper girlfriend’, who was looking to get out of an abusive marriage and had many mental health issues, contacted him via Facebook and for several months did what I can only describe as grooming. Eventually they met up and my DH IMMEDIATELY became extremely limerent, fuelled by the forbidden nature of meeting in hotel rooms and his LO’s DH behaving in an aggressive way and chucking the LO out of their home.
      My DH is falling for the extreme flattery, which he clearly needs in a big way, and is focussing so completely on his relationship with the LO. It has moved so rapidly from the first meeting 3 months ago to wanting to move in with the LO and the wish for a divorce.
      My DH is totally unable to think about what he has done to me and gets angry at any suggestion of guilt. He says he enjoys the person he is with the LO (ie. 17 years old again) but when I ask what he gets from his relationship with her he gets defensive.
      At the same time he wants to keep me in the loop – he says he wants friendship, companionship with me and wants to support me. He says his relationship with the LO has a much greater chance of being good if I am around!! As you can imagine, I’m not going to go along with this to suit the madness. What I am working on is being supportive and good friends with him but getting him to ‘love me properly’ by doing things for me and being supportive in return. That way I feel he may see the light and learn real love and also to love himself, which is crucial. Do you agree? Would be interested in any opinions. Thanks

      • Lisa

        Protect yourself legally and financially. Get a lawyer and a separation agreement. Go figure out every single penny it takes to run your household. That includes the toilet paper!

        Consequences have to mean something to hasten the limerence cycle and its end.

        Separation doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is over but it’s best to be prepared to go it alone and protect yourself from him squandering the marital assets on his Twu Wuv.

      • Shifting Impressions

        I can’t say that I agree. Sounds like your husband needs a good dose of reality rather than friendship and understanding. Since when is it your job to help him with his relationship with another woman????

        Allowing someone to disrespect you isn’t real love in my opinion. That is only my opinion, of course.

    • Dave

      My wife fell victim to a romance scammer on Facebook who love bombed her into a state of Limerence. The only reason we are still together is that he was not real. She was sending him money constantly until we were bankrupt trying to elope with him. It’s the most painful experience of my life.

    • Michaele

      My bf and i were together for eight years before i knew of his limerent lo. Found out he had been in limerence for the past five years. We did split the first two years after i found out. It hurt so terribly bad. Now we have been back together another two years and yes once again i have found out he is still in limerence with this woman she will be locked up for approx ten years out earlier for good behavior. She has never shown any type of interest in him at all. She is a 30 year old beautiful woman he is 54 year old average man. I don’t believe she will ever have any interest in him other then a friend.
      They say limerence usually lasts about three. years however he is now into the 9th year.of this. Does it always end or does it sometimes last with the person their remaining years??? I’m at a loss and don’t know.what to do at this point. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you…

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