QUESTION: My husband is in love with another woman. I believe that what he is feeling for the other woman is what you call limerence. Since he has moved out, he has asked me to bring him medicine when sick, and he got me a shirt the day he had me served with divorce papers. Yesterday when I talked to him he said I haven’t done anything to make him fall back in love. Also that I haven’t checked on him… then immediately replies, not that I want you too. I feel like I can’t say or do anything right and that he is happy when we have no contact. What would you suggest?
ANSWER: It breaks my heart that your husband is in love with another woman. I’m sure that hurts deeply. I’m also sorry that he gives you mixed signals such as telling you he doesn’t love you, serving you with divorce papers, but then giving you a present. People in limerence fluctuate, especially in the early stages or the late stages. Typically, they remain more constant in the middle stages.
Limerence typically lasts between 3 months and 36 months. I view it as having three stages – early, middle, and late. If you’re wondering how you can tell which stage of limerence your husband is in, be aware that evaluating that is not an exact science. When those in limerence do things such as give a present (such as the shirt he gave you) without any overt motivation at manipulating you to do something, we tend to view that as either early or late, and NOT a middle stage. In the middle stage, they usually have so vilified their spouses that they hardly speak a kind word to them, demonstrate a great deal of anger when in contact with them, and demonstrate little variance in behavior. In short, they’ve so written off the spouse that s/he is the enemy and most of the time they treat them like one.
In the early stages – and again in the late stages – people in limerence tend to be nicer to the spouse they are abandoning, though they still may display anger and say that they do not love their mate and those kinds of things. Yet, in contradiction to that they unexpectedly do nice things, or want to talk. Then the next day they may be hardhearted again. I interpret that fluctuation as positive. While limerence is tough to overcome at any stage, there is a better chance in the early and late stages than in the middle.
On several occasions I’ve taught counselors and therapists about limerence, its idiosyncrasies, its amazing emotional power, and more. I explain to them how our system we employ in our workshop for marriages in crisis helps 3 out of 4 actually begin to move out of limerence and back toward their spouses. I also explain to them how much more difficult it is to accomplish that move when dealing with one couple (such as in therapy) rather than a group of couples (such as in our workshop). While there are issues that are much better dealt with in one-on-one or couple’s therapy, my experience over the last two decades demonstrates that limerence is almost always better dealt with in a group setting in an intensive workshop that lasts a few days.
In this blog, I do not explain the reasons why our workshop methodology is so effective. Actually, I only explain that to researchers and to professionals who work with marriages. It’s not that I think the general public can’t understand it; it’s that to keep it effective, we don’t want people we work with trying to analyze what we do or how we do it. That would distract them from what needs to happen within them and for them. Therefore, forgive me for sounding secretive about why what we do works; just understand that it does with 3 out of 4.
BTW, we don’t explain the methodology or why it works to people in the workshop either.
What Should You Do?
In answer to your question, yes, your limerent husband likely does feel better when he has no contact with you. That’s not because of something wrong with you or what you’ve done; it’s more likely because deep inside he knows that he shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing.
So, should you check on him? Take him medicine? I think as long as he reacts kindly, those are good things to do. If nothing else, it is the true milk of human kindness. However, it at any point he becomes surly or resentful that you do those things, I suggest you cease.
When I left my wife Alice back in the 1980s, she stood very strong, but she was also very kind. Even when I treated her terribly, she demonstrated amazing strength of character. That kindness on her part – the vast majority of which I did not deserve – was a key factor in eventually leading me back to her and our marriage. She didn’t take any crapola from me, but she also didn’t attack or try to hurt me. She did what she needed to do in order to take care of her and our children, but she refused to do all the damaging things to me that her friends wanted her to do.
I suggest strength. Calmness (as much as you can). Kindness, even when he doesn’t deserve it. I can’t tell you how to apply those things to every situation, but I’m sure that with confidence and self-control (ask God) you will apply it the best way most every time. When you don’t, don’t worry. Just keep on. You can do it.