At the beginning of a relationship, everything is beautiful. Nothing else exists than the loved one. Little by little, this passion subsides, giving way to appeasement and a more balanced relationship… Except when we are affected by the phenomenon of “limerence”! This “love disease” in fact transforms the feeling of love into a real obsession. Which often has unfortunate consequences on the development of the couple… Véronique Kohn, psychologist, tells us more about this little-known psychological state.
What is limerence?
Love can arouse intense emotions. Euphoria, joy, desire, passion, jealousy, fear; the romantic relationship makes our heads spin and sometimes leads us towards uncontrollable feelings. For some people, however, it happens that love takes on an excessive dimension and turns into obsession. Everything revolves around each other, leading to emotional ups and downs. This unconscious psychological state, close to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), has a name: “limerence”. Described for the first time in 1979 by the American psychologist Dorothy Tenov in her work “Love and Limerence – the Experience of Being in Love”, limerence is also known under the name “love disease” and has strong similarities with dependence or addiction. When we are prey to limerence, we only think about others. We praise him, we idealize him, we interpret all his actions… and we suffer, inevitably, whether or not the feelings are reciprocal, because, in all cases, the phenomenon reflects a lack of security in the relationship.
“Limerence is an uncontrollable, repetitive thought that revolves around the partner, analyzes the why and the how, what he (she) did not or should have done/said. It is an invasion, a loss of control in the face of the feeling of love which monopolizes all aspects of our life., explains Véronique Kohn, psychologist and psychotherapist specializing in romantic relationships, author of “Which lover(s) are you?” (ed. Tchou). This over-focusing of attention on the object of love leads to obsessive, intrusive thoughts and behaviors, constant rumination and this psychological disorder can last a very long time, including in the event of loss of the loved one (breakup ). It’s like a permanent hypnosis: we can’t help but put this love at the center of our priorities, as if to reassure ourselves.”
Note: limerence can occur when you are in a relationship with someone, but also when you are not. In this second situation, the person develops idyllic scenarios, in which the other person loves them madly, and only sees favorable signs because they are so addicted. She also seeks attention, interprets in the other’s place. Fantasies that bear little relation to objective reality and are conducive, as we can well imagine, to toxic relationships…
How can we recognize this phenomenon and know if we are concerned?
Limerence is distinguished from romantic passion by five characteristic features:
– Intrusive and repetitive thoughts : obsessed with the loved one, the person dwells on and entertains various scenarios about the object of their desire (most often, promises of happiness, but also critical and negative thoughts when the loved one escapes them). “Her emotions are so heightened that she comes to forget herself.”notes the psychologist.
– Intense emotions : when feelings are shared, joy and euphoria are present. “But when there is disappointment or non-reciprocity, rejection, heartbreak, or indifference causes intense despair.”
– A desire for reciprocity : the desire for mutual affection and fusion pushes us to want to be constantly reassured. “The lack, the waiting are experienced with difficulty and the fear of losing the object of love dominates.”
– An idealization : the other is seen as a perfect being, above all criticism. “No defect can tarnish this vision of ideal love which is, beyond the loved one, the objective towards which we strive.” The other can also be “de-idealized”: “in this case he becomes the executioner, blamed and responsible for all our ills.”
– A desire for proximity : when we are near each other, fears are calmed. “The presence of the other is a relief, it puts an end – temporarily – to the emotional turmoil and provides security.”
– Anxiety about abandonment : faced with the possibility of losing the attention or affection of the person they are in love with, the person can be plunged into great anxiety.
Where does this come from?
The phenomenon of limerence mainly affects women, although men can also be affected. “Most often, it refers to psycho-affective traumas that occurred in childhood (mourning, abandonment, etc.), and reflects numerous fears, in particular the fear of rejection and abandonment, but also the fear loss of control” explains the specialist. Limerence is a mode of functioning which shows that the obsessed person is insecure and cannot break away from their partner. It can also be repeated from relationship to relationship.
What is the impact of limerence on our romantic relationships?
Because it is not possible to have access to each other’s thoughts, it is difficult to know, deep down, whether love is truly shared. Fear thus leads to uncertainty and anxiety regarding the romantic relationship. Limerence is therefore a consequence of the emotional dependence that we maintain on our loved one. “The more we are obsessed with others, the more we are dependent and therefore, deep down insecure. The noose then tightens around the other, who we think is the only one who can reassure usnotes Véronique Kohn. Whether or not we are in a relationship with him, we think that he is the only person in the world who can or could have fulfilled us.” When the other does not live up to these expectations, anger and frustration can be present. Every behavior, every reaction is analyzed, overinterpreted and the smallest detail takes on disproportionate proportions. “Reproaches, attacks and verbal aggression can thus generate dysfunction in the couple and weaken it, continues the psychologist. A dominance/submission relationship can also be established (we adapt to the behavior of the other for fear of losing them) which is just as harmful.” Grief, depression, even depression can finally set in in the event of non-reciprocity or rejection.
Is limerence treatable?
Yes, it is possible to break out of this pattern of functioning, but it takes time, thought and effort. The first thing to do is to recognize that the problem comes from yourself and to accept that you are prey to limerence. “Admitting the existence of this emotional disorder, avoiding judging this feeling, demonstrating self-compassion, kindness and goodwill towards oneself is fundamental to starting a process of change. underlines Véronique Kohn.
It is also important to note that limerence is different from true love or a healthy romantic relationship. “Although limerence can be a powerful experience, it does not lead to a stable and fulfilling partnership.” Getting out of it is necessary, not only to move towards better emotional health, but also to give yourself the opportunity to experience more balanced relationships in the future.
How to get out of this mode of functioning to build healthier relationships?
Several keys, defined by Véronique Kohn, allow you to get rid of limerence, to consider your loved one in a more realistic way and thus, straighten out your relationship:
– Be clear with what happened before : what are the repetitive patterns that led you to develop this obsessive disorder? “Healing childhood wounds is important so as not to place expectations on others that do not concern them.”
– Identify what is happening today : Try to understand what the underlying motivations are for this behavior. “Is it related to unmet emotional needs or past experiences? An awareness of these factors can help you address the root causes.”
– Take some distance : move away a little from your loved one, limit interactions and pay less attention to the relationship. “This will reduce emotional triggers and give you the time and space to heal.”
– Don’t let your imagination run wildr: avoid building fantasies or unreal scenarios, which lead to erroneous interpretations of the feelings of your loved one. “Bring your thoughts as much as possible back to concrete and realistic facts.”
– Regain autonomy : devote time and energy, refocus on yourself. “Reconnect with activities that make you happy, strengthen your self-esteem and cultivate your own interests: this focus on yourself will allow you to place fewer expectations on the relationship.”
– Elargir are social circle : Meet new people, create new friendships. “These different sources of emotional support can help you during difficult times.”
– Practice mindfulness meditation : “this support allows you to stay anchored in the present moment rather than getting carried away by your obsessive thoughts.”
– Be patient : get out of this pattern…