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Emotional / Limerence affairs

When dealing with emotional affairs, without fail when we are working with the betrayed and or the betrayer in our affair recovery practice, when we mention limerence and  its symptoms, there is invariably a light bulb moment. The erratic and bizarre behaviour of the betrayer suddenly makes sense to the betrayed. The betrayer themselves may or may not depending upon what phase of limerence they are in, also realise they have been caught up in feelings and behaviours that has many parallels to an addiction.

So what is limerence? 

The original definition of limerence, a term coined by Dorothy Tenov, a psychologist in the 1970’s is an involuntary state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated. It is characterised by:

  • Intrusive and obsessive thinking about the object of infatuation – referred to as the Limerent Object (LO)
  • Replaying and rehearsal of interactions with the LO
  • Anxiety and self-consciousness around the LO
  • Emotional dependence on the LO
  • Impaired functioning around the LO

Reading this list, many will recognise the early stages of the infatuated addictive energy of love (or perhaps what would be better called lust) that we feel in early relationships – so called New Relationship Energy (NRE).   When there are no barriers for the relationship to be consummated and with time and reciprocation, this may transform into a more secure and enduring love. 

Where the progression of a romantic relationship is hindered often by marriage or other long term relationship enduring limerence often ensues. Why do emotional / limerence affairs develop? For a fire to develop it takes 3 essential ingredients: fuel, oxygen and an ignition source. Our belief is that affairs follow a similar pattern. The fuel is the betrayer’s past history that is played out, unconsciously in the current relationship, the oxygen is the past history that is played out, again unconsciously by the partner and the ignition source is the affair partner. Let’s look at these elements and how they play out.  In some ways our brains can be compared to computers.

When born, we have a blank hard drive that has a basic operating system ready to download aps and programmes. This core operating system is determined to some extent by our genes and also the conditions we experience whilst in our mother’s womb. The first few years of life are where we are absorbing more information than we will at any other time in our lives. And part of the challenge is whilst we are sensing so many new experiences, we have yet to develop a vocabulary to make sense of things. 

If we grow up in a family with a mother and other significant others that makes us feel safe by being calm and loving, consistent, nurturing, gentle and encouraging, we learn to trust. We appreciate that its healthy to communicate how we are feeling and how to ask for our needs to be met. We take these experiences into all our other relationships, with friends, family, work colleagues and most significantly our romantic relationships.  This is what we call secure attachment style.

When we don’t get these needs met in early life, and sadly too few of us do, then we are left too clingy, too needy, too controlling, too avoidant or one of many other maladapted ways of coping with a fear of intimacy and rejection in our relationships. These may exhibit as what we call anxious or avoidant attachment styles. In many long terms relationships, couples drift apart with the passage of time. 

Boredom, routine, the stress of raising children, interfering parents and siblings, work and financial pressures plus a multitude of other life stressors add to the mix. We each retreat into our shells building up more and more resentments. This is where sex then often becomes a battleground, where often the woman who feels the emotional disconnect, feels little desire to be physically intimate with her partner.  These resentments build and don’t get discussed and worked through. Because so much of our behaviour is unconscious, we fear being rejected and being vulnerable, so these becomes major blocks to us communicating cleanly, concisely and clearly. With time, the oxygen and fuel start building up and the conditions for an affair become ripe.

This is what we call the perfect storm.  All it takes is an ignition source. And we often see the person that is the betrayer comes from a from a family where they experienced infidelity from a parent whilst growing up. It’s as if they are trying to heal the wounds of this parent’s own assignations, all at an unconscious level. The phases of limerence Like other addictions, we see limerence originating from early life psychological wounding. We use it to fill a hole in our soul.  We  describe  limerence as the mother of all distractions and when working with clients in limerence we are  curious to uncover what is it the person avoiding dealing with?  So often there is deep unresolved emotional pain. The client has protected themselves by covering their hearts over the years and decades with layers and layers of reinforced concrete.  This was a survival mechanism necessary from growing up in a dysfunctional and often narcissistic family system.  

However as adults, these behaviours no longer serve their need – but old patterns die hard. And then comes along comes limerence and its associated romantic heartbreak.  A window of opportunity for some much needed emotional growth is presented.  We are not sure why some of us become aware that limerence is not about the magical other and is all about us, whilst others jump from one failed marriage to another, taking themselves and all their own unresolved emotional baggage with them, playing out the same dramas.  As they say in 12 steps. wherever you go, there you are.

The reality is limerence never lasts – typically it spans from 6-36 months. Just long enough for us to pair-bond and continue the survival of the species. Recent advances in neuroimaging and neurochemistry are now mapping out these pathways for romantic love. We also feel limerence is a gateway to grief. It marks a transitional phase where we enter a liminal space. Whilst the initial grieving maybe for the ending of the affair or perhaps the failed marriage, it can open access to much needed grieving from so many other losses from our own childhood and other traumas and who knows, perhaps the loses of our generations that went before us. And this explains why so many opt for the easier path, choosing never to take responsibility for our own behaviours, continuing to blame others and continuing to behave at an emotional level as children and adolescents trapped in adult bodies.  Doing this growth work takes courage and determination. Its what we call the heavy lifting.

Advice for the Betrayer

Depending upon where we are at within the lifecycle of limerence will depend upon how receptive we are to appreciate that this condition is all about us, our early life attachment wounds and that there is no magical other that’s going to make us feel better about ourselves. Seeking other esteem is never the solution to building our own self esteem.  In the early phase which we mentioned lasts from 6-36 months, it’s hard to break through the defences.  Sadly, the neurochemicals really do distort one’s perceptions, they literally rewrite history, obliterating all the good that existed in the past relationship. The betrayer really believes they have met their soulmate. We don’t like this term and don’t believe in this myth.  

We prefer the term woundmate where unconscious early life wounds are what is being activated in the person that is in limerence. They see the LO as an Adonis, as someone that is perfect in every sense and the answer to all their problems. They feel seen and validated and understood at a deep level. Their LO just gets them. And they feel like they love their long-term partner but are no longer in love with them. Limerence plays cruel tricks on the mind.  They see their long-term partner as a barrier to having a life with their LO. Their unresolved anger issues are put onto their partner either by passive withdrawal or active attacking.

With time and with the diminishing of the neurochemicals, chinks begin to appear. It is here where an opportunity exists for the person to realise this is a relationship based on a fantasy. Perhaps the betrayer can start extracting themselves from the real or perceived relationship with the LO and to start doing their own self-development work. It may be possible in the very early stage of limerence where there has not been consummation of the relationship, that the addictive spiral can be broken.

This will require self-will and discipline to break all contact with the LO and to enter some form of talk therapy program to explore what led the person to develop limerence.  It is rare for us to see clients at this stage. All too often, this opportunity is missed and full blown emotional and or physical affair ensues. Then it’s a case of waiting until the person comes out of what we call the fog. Where they can start seeing more clearly as to the reality of their situation. And so the journey of self-discovery may begin.

For a detailed article on how to heal from limerence see http://loverelations.co.uk/healing-from-limerence/

How the betrayed behaves during this phase can make a significant difference as to the chances of the pre-existing relationship being rebuilt.

Advice for the Betrayed

The discovery of an affair is traumatic and will be accompanied by many overwhelming emotions – denial, rejection, betrayal, anger, rage, sadness, bargaining and many others. These are the classic symptoms we go through when confronted with a significant loss. It’s often described as the cycle of grief, a process first described by the physician Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Ironically, your partner will be going through their own grief as well. There is a natural temptation to act out these feelings onto the person that is betraying you. To vent your anger and rage onto your partner.

Unfortunately, this will have the effect of pushing your partner further away from you and just reinforces that you are the one that is controlling, needy, demanding or any other number of negative traits that your partner will latch onto. The person in limerence is confused and not acting with any real rational thought. They are being controlled by their emotions and are acting from a young impulsive part of themselves. There are several strategies that may help you and with time, perhaps help your partner to see you are a better option to rebuild a relationship with. This list may sound counter-intuitive. It’s based on solid research and has worked for the many people we have worked with in our affair recovery practice.

Become a non-judging, non-shaming place of unconditional love for your partner. Anything that drives a wedge between you and your partner will push them further away. As difficult as it may be, the more you can be there for your other half in a non-judging non-shaming way, the less they can use you as the excuse for things not working out.  We ask clients how would they react if they discovered their partner was addicted to cocaine or alcohol? Would they be more supportive, more compassionate? We appreciate this is difficult because of the lying and breaking of trust that goes hand in hand with limerence and all other addictions. 

Limerence is so much tougher to endure though because the addiction is to another person. The sense of betrayal is huge and engulfing. Addicts already feel significant shame and by you being judgemental to their behaviour makes them feel more shame. Shame is one of the most toxic and soul crushing of feelings and rarely helps a situation.   That does not mean there are not to be consequences for their behaviour and that is where strong healthy boundaries come into play.

Develop healthy boundaries

We all need to protect ourselves from emotional harm. Psychological defences are created in childhood to serve that purpose unconsciously, but they also lead us into unhealthy and unproductive behaviour. Boundaries are conscious and healthy ways to protect ourselves from emotional harm. Some of us have difficulty setting and enforcing boundaries, a difficulty that invariably stems from inadequate and often abusive parenting whilst a child.

This abuse can range from subtle emotional manipulation to severe sexual and physical abuse. We can’t enforce enough how important it is that boundaries with consequences that are enforced for violation are set up. If the consequences are not enacted, the boundary becomes an empty threat and loses its potency.  Each person has to decide how much they are willing to tolerate from their partner’s behaviour and where the boundary lies. Much has been written on boundary setting and the length of this article precludes going into further detail. If boundaries are hard for you to keep to, it may be worth getting some help to explore why you find this so difficult.

Work on yourself. 

People either move towards pleasure or away from pain. Being attracted to another is a pleasurable experience. Attraction is based around 4 key areas. Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual (PIES). If you work on yourself on all 4 of these areas to make yourself more attractive, you have a better chance of your partner being drawn back towards you. That said, we recommend you work on yourself for yourself, whatever happens to your relationship.

If your partner sees you as becoming more desirable, than that’s great. Its not a guarantee things will work out though. Likewise, if you become critical, negative, judging, clingy, aggressive, vengeful or display other less than desirable behaviours, your partner is more likely to move away from you and more towards their LO.

We would recommend you also look at yourself in a fierce and honest way to see what behaviours you may have shown in the relationship that were less than loving. Relationships always take two people and as we say, it takes two to tango. That doesn’t mean we condone anyone going off and embarking on an affair.

Be careful who you tell

Each person will have their own view and opinions based on their own history and experiences. Whilst advice may be given with good intention, its often misguided and unhealthy. Better you seek advice from a pro-marriage professional.

As we say what defines us as people is not what we feel, but how we act on our feelings. We are only humans and its not unnatural to develop strong feelings for other people whether we are in a committed relationship or not.  – it’s what we do with these feelings that matters. The stronger you make your marriage, the more you affair-proof it, the less likely these feeling will trip either of you up.

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Today I spent a pleasant hour being interviewed by my friend Diarmaid Fitzpatrick who I’ve got to know through the ManKind Project.

Diarmaid presents mid morning matters on Radio Marlow, a UK based community radio service. I am actively involved with The ManKind project – a charity that helps men become more emotional intelligent and to live with honesty, integrity and by taking personal responsibility.

In this interview I talk about how I became interested in relationships, why we go into relationships and why we need to work on ourselves as well as the relationship.

Click here to listen to the interview. 

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I have often thought over the years that if I had just one wish what would that be? What would I change, do different or ask for?

 

Many times I've daydreamed about one thing or another and thought my life would be better, more complete, happier, healthier, thinner and I could go on and on. What I never thought about was, if that wish was granted how would it change the outcome and course of my life as I know it today?

 

You see, if I was able to make adjustments to my past, no matter how small, that change will inevitably disrupts the trajectory and path I am on and if a change is made in the past then the present as I know it no longer exists. It will be new, different.

 

This then started me thinking about why I wanted one wish in the first place, what was so wrong with my life? Did I feel out of control? Unloved? Dissatisfied with my choice of work or partner? Or maybe I was young, inexperienced and unsure of the world? Now I believe that feeling came from a felt sense of being out of alinement with life in general.

But what caused this I wondered?

 

Daydreaming about life is a normal and healthy pastime, thinking about having this or that or doing something different is nice and wishful thinking. However when it starts to affect your emotional state which then spills out on to those around you, it becomes something more serious.

 

Taking ourselves off into another dimension removes us from the present, it's a distraction and sometimes a very needed one in times of extreme pain and trauma. Humans a have the amazing ability to take their mind off to other places even though the physical body is still. A healthy way to do this is through deep meditation and relaxation. The unhealthy way is by turning to substance or drug misuse, addictive and compulsive behaviours as a means and way to distract oneself from the present.

 

Again this had me thinking that if what I was feeling was from a sense of being out of alinement with life in general was this then another term for an existential crisis? Irvin Yallom writes about this subject so well in his book Existentialism, where he refers to four aspects, abandonment, loneliness, isolation and death as being the main causes of this crisis and for me that struck a cord. When I think about Society as we know it today, life can be difficult, times have changed. We no longer have the communities or family support that our parents had. Talking to each other has been replaced by email, text, Twitter and so on. Communicating with humans has in many ways been taken over by the fast pace of technology. The speed of this running ahead of our human ability psychologically to keep up. 

 

Humans are relational beings and need each other to exist and thrive, isolation and loneliness are unfortunately all to common an issue with many people today. The break down of family units and systems fuel the feelings of abandonment and the lack of discussion on our mortality and death further play into human existential crisis. Maybe this was what I was going through and certainly reading up on the topic written by Yallom made a lot of sense to me.

 

When the human being feels trapped, cornered and powerless the psyche looks for a distraction to sooth itself. I now know this was what was happening to me, overcoming these feelings also brought me to a realisation. If focusing on what can be better or different places the mind into a state of false bliss what happens to our reality?

 

When our psyche or mind is left unchecked there is a real risk that it may go into overdrive where the fantasy starts to takeover the reality, again in times of severe trauma this is an essential coping mechanism.

 

When a fantasy takes us away from the present this has consequences on those around us. If an average everyday person going about their business was given one wish this would change something without them realising the domino effect that has on their life. Removing ourselves from the present and not allowing our mind, body and feelings to see our true reality can take away our choice to live in the here and now.

 

Learning to understand my own feelings around what was going on in my psyche led me to thinking about how many of us do not live in the present, always looking ahead or in the past, stuck in memories and daydreams which have no real purpose other than to prevent us from living. That’s not saying that fantasy’s are “bad”, we all need a little light relief at times, but when the fantasy takes us out of relation with ourselves and others is where a problem may occur.

 

Wishing part of my life to be different, and daydreaming about what I would change took me out of the here and now and stopped me from seeing all that I had in front of me. Even though I was sometimes unhappy or sad, that was only a feeling which eventually goes away. If a change had happened with a wish then all I know now may not be as it is, and who's to say any better?

 

What I have come to realise is that only me as an individual can make my own wishes and put in place changes that will affect my future. Looking back I feel I was going through some sort of existential crisis which lead to me looking for a distraction to smooth the uncomfortable feelings I had. This lead to me not being present by reliving the past and fantasising about what if’s. I understand now that this has no logic or place, the past has gone, and no one can change that.

Now, if I was able to have one wish and change and alter the past I choose not to as I would loose so much of what I have learnt, that has made me who I am today.

 

I can make small changes in the here and now that will affect my future, I can live in the present and not distract myself with the past and what if’s. To be compassionate to my being, to make decisions and choices based on who I am as an adult and not on my insecurities of my inner child and past.

 

One wish is wishful thinking and I've learnt to keep it just that, I can smile and move forward keeping my myself grounded and very much in the here and now.

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This article was written by my SO for our couples counselling (www.loverelations.co.uk) blog. I felt it may be of benefit to those in a  committed relationship and questioning to stay or leave.

Separating with Sense  

We use this term because for many relationships where one or both partners wish to go their separate ways, all rational thinking and sense goes out of the window!! The reality is that understanding the dynamics involved between two people that then leads to a separation are complex and deep. Too often what brings a couple to this decision is a catalogue of wrongs and resentments on both sides, which have built up over many years.

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From my own observations of supporting people through crises over the past 20 years, I’ve experienced first hand how a high level of self-awareness of that person directly impacts how they weather the storm.

We are all in relationship with others. We are social animals. Self awareness requires an understanding others, their emotional needs and wants. We can’t know the truth about another without knowing it about ourselves.

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I woke at 1 am last night after yet another nightmare. I’ve had recurrent nightmares for as long as I can remember. I had night terrors as a young boy. They always involve dark negative entities, witches, monsters, ghosts that are trying to get me. Last night’s was one of the worst. I woke up screaming feeling such visceral fear that words don’t encapsulate my feelings. Every fibre of my being felt invaded by terror. The fear of being annihilated. Sleep did not return to me easily last night. I lay in bed and raged that once again my father’s inability to deal with his own feelings bears its burden in the trans-generational trauma that I carry.

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My father has been away for a few weeks and I’ve been feeling good. When he is away my joints don’t ache. Last night he called and our conversation was pleasant as they often are. We have rebuilt bridges over the past two years, including a bonding trip back to Auschwitz. I wondered how long it would take for his return to impact me. 5 hours to be precise. I woke at 2 am after a vivid dream related to a rigid inflexible teacher. As I lay in bed I was aware of a hot burning sensation in my chest. This was unlike the all too familiar anxiety I used to live with, this felt more like a consuming rage.

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A mid-life crisis, transition or transformation is usually experienced around the age of 40 plus or minus 20 years. One of the first to write on the subject was the psychologist Carl Jungwho struggled in his own mid-life and came up with the term individuation - the path towards wholeness, the journey to the Self at the core of one's being and is felt to be a normal part of the maturing process.   Not all people experience this transition but for some, a midlife crisis is very apparent and can be an uncomfortable time emotionally which may lead to significant psychological upheaval.

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Sunday 1st March 2015 was National Self Harm Awareness Day. Perhaps it passed you by? For those of us who work in psychotherapy, Self Harm Awareness Day might appear as an email alert in the in-box, another statistic or “-ism” which we scan and move on.

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Valentine’s Day has been and gone. While the greetings card and flower industries are measuring their takings, most of us go back to ordinary worries around our relationships: are we in one? Can we stay in one? Can we attract one?

Talk of relationship “addition” or “love addiction” seems baffling to most people for whom addiction is associated with alcohol, drugs, or perhaps gambling. Love addiction has been ridiculed in the press – either an overblown term for the serial dater, the Hollywood A-lister who has a new partner on their arm each time the red carpet is rolled out. When the golfer, Tiger Woods, announced he was seeking help for sex addiction, it was greeted in some quarters with scornful murmurs of excuse making for sexual or emotional lack of self-control.

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From the time we are little boys, men are programmed – both socially conditioned and psychologically hard-wired to prove themselves, to make a name for themselves. Consequently, they experience life in a superficial way, almost inevitably focusing on the surface issues of their lives.

Not everyone has a midlife crisis. Its impossible to predict who will and who wont. William O Roberts, Author of Crossing the Soul's River posits there are two factors that contribute to the midlife crisis –  success and sensitivity. If you are successful – even reasonably successful – you will be known by your successes. You will be known by your persona. If you are sensitive and especially if you are resolved to be both reflective and creative in the living of your life, you will most likely experience the restrictions of the Persona and will struggle to break out of those restrictions. When there is a Breakdown of the Persona, then you head out into the river and start your midlife journey.

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With Christmas fast approaching, I have more time than usual to reflect. Prior to limerence, I hadn’t appreciated how I used my addictive tendencies to distract myself from my inner feelings of anxiety and dysthymia, a constant low grade depression that has been with me most my life. I used work, food and shopping as ways to numb my feelings, to fill the “hole in my soul”.

It took limerence and its addictive element for me to really appreciate the tenaciousness of addictions and our inability to just stop partaking in the behaviour that is problematic. I should have sensed things were getting out of control when just before limerence struck, I almost blew our life savings on buying a second-hand aircraft. 

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Its been a few days since I returned from a ManKind Project Rites of Passage weekend. See http://mankindproject.org/ 

I’m still processing and will likely be for some time. The weekend could not have come at a more appropriate time. I have just completed my four-year diploma in transpersonal psychotherapy. By its very nature, this training has had a very maternal “holding” energy, part of the re-mothering that is skilfully crafted into the process. Being transpersonal, there was a lot of emphasis on the elements model of earth, air, fire and water, archetypal and Jungian psychology, alchemy and the myth of Iron John was mentioned more than once.

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At times over the past 4 years Ive wondered if my strategy of avoiding my LO just allowed the my projection of my fantasy onto my LO?  Had i made an effort to get to know LO, would i have continued to project onto her the "idealised Anima"?

What is the anima/animus? Why do we unconsciously seek it?  From wikipedia: The anima and animus can be identified as the totality of the unconscious feminine psychological qualities that a male possesses or the masculine ones possessed by the female, respectively. It is an archetype of the collective unconscious and not an aggregate of father or mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or teachers, though these aspects of the personal unconscious can influence the person for good or ill. 

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An article from a US psychiatric journal dropped into my in-box: “Hooked on Messy Loving”? Usually I press delete. Or forward to my friend and colleague with a mutually understood sigh. We psychotherapists can be a little suspicious around the pop-psychology of “love addiction” or “toxic relationships”. Suspicious not because either she or I dismiss the concept of addictive relationships. Far from it. Both of us sit with clients in psychotherapy practice who bring the agonies of obsession, infatuation and abandonment.