Just received this message:
First let me say that, my husband and I have so much respect for you and appreciate all of the work you do…here is where we need your wisdom and advice. Our [newly Christian friend] is currently involved in a relationship (of less than 2 months) with a divorced woman…He and the woman have been having sex since date two and he spends the weekends at her place…He is a sensitive, loving man who desperately wants to be in love and in a relationship…He says he cannot stop the sex because he enjoys it so much even though he knows it is wrong…Our brother thinks he’s in love, but it is clear that he’s thinking unclearly, led by sexual desires…They are talking of marriage and even moving in together…We desperately need your wisdom and advice to give to this brother! Wendy
The situation you describe is, unfortunately, more the norm than the exception. Today half the couples who marry live together first. We have become a “try before you buy” culture when it comes to marriage.
Your friend’s difficulty is actually somewhat deeper. You mention that he is twice divorced and that he desperately wants to be in love and in a relationship. I agree with your assessment that he is not thinking clearly, but I think that it is much more than “led by sexual desires.” Sex obviously is a major part of what is occurring, but it is the symptom of something deeper.
The social scientists have various names for it. I call it limerence (Dr. Dorothy Tennov’s term). Dr. Helen Fisher and her colleagues presented fascinating research about it and how it affects a person. The short version is that a person in this state is sort of a “brain chemical junkie” for a period of six to thirty-six months. The brain produces plenty of “feel good” chemicals that bring pleasure — even euphoria — while diminishing its production of “inhibitor” chemicals that help control behavior. From a Christian standpoint it gives better understanding of Paul’s statement to the Ephesians that we are by nature children of wrath.
Your friend appears to be a limerence addict. Obviously I cannot know for sure because I haven’t assessed him, but my guess is that I’m right. Limerence addicts love to be in love. They live for the thrill of new love that provides a rush that feels nearly magical. According to Dr. Fisher’s research, there are at least thirteen characteristics of a person in limerence. You described several as you wrote about your newly Christian friend. The one that may stand out for you is that the person in limerence cannot see anything flawed or negative about the new love in his life, even when his friends and relatives see them clearly and point them out repeatedly.
A person in this state usually becomes quite sexual with the new lover, assuming the new lover reciprocates affection. Part of the reason is that a person in limerence usually is consumed with fear that the new lover might leave. That exacerbates passion and the need to possess the other in every way possible, especially sexually. However, it isn’t sexual need driving the activity but the craving to be with the L.O. (limerence object — the beloved) in every way possible.
So how do you help a person in limerence? I write about it in chapter four of my book Your LovePath in much more detail than I can here, but here are a few suggestions.
1. Be aware that logic, morality, religious beliefs, and the like usually have little effect on a person in limerence. They are so caught up in the chemical highs (emotions) that they feel little control over themselves and their actions. Reasoning seldom overcomes emotions because emotions are so much more powerful than intellect. The best way to think of him is as an addict. His new love floods his brain with chemicals that put him in a tremendous high that he does not want to lose.
2. My experience is that the best way to deal with overpowering emotions in another is to be extremely calm and reasonable yourself. If those trying to help demonstrate strong emotions — frustration, anger, despair, etc. — the situation typically becomes worse rather than better. You treat him (and his lover) with respect and kindness even as you make your stand against immorality. With the exception of hypocrites, that’s the way Jesus treated people.
3. Help him by touching other emotions that lie within him, though they may be relatively dormant at the moment. Love for God, friendship and brotherhood, self-respect. That’s what made church discipline so effective in Bible times (I Cor 5). It doesn’t work as well in our day when a person can just walk down the street and be accepted by another church in spite of his or her behavior.
4. Though I hate to list this as an option, time eventually will help. Limerence rarely lasts more than three years and then goes away for that individual. My guess, though, is that your friend is a limerence addict who will then find another new and wonderful love to give him that boost all over again.
5. That means that he has to have a true encounter with God that fills him with God’s Spirit. If somehow he can grow in his Christian maturity so that he truly is in love with God — not limerence with God, which may have been the case at his conversion — then he may overcome this limerence addiction. If there is a good twelve step program around such as Celebrate Recovery, take him to that. Yes, go with him to begin with. If he finally addresses the addictive personality he has, there is hope in God.
Whew, what a long reply! Let me end by saying that limerence typically ends in one of three ways:
Consummation: the intense emotion of limerence either blends into lasting love or is replaced by less positive feelings
Starvation: the “love” isn’t reciprocated and finally the person in limerence accepts the fact that the L.O. (beloved) is not going to love him/her
Transformation: the person moves on to another person for whom s/he feels limerence
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the third option for your friend unless he gets help to learn to love himself and love God as he deals with his addictive nature.
Check www.JoeBeam.com for the release of my new book Your LovePath on December 1.