Today’s post is about limerence and affairs. Like most (if not all) unfaithful spouses, I experienced limerence during my affair. Similarly, I expect most (if not all) unfaithful spouses, like me, experienced limerence during the end of our affair. Let me assure you: limerence and affairs are a toxic cocktail and they will harm your recovery.
What are limerence and affairs?
My wife has recently written about limerence here: limerence, so I won’t go into too many details here. I will certainly tell you what it means to me and, also, how limerence harmed my marriage and our lives.
The excellent Healing Broken Trust podcast (https://healingbrokentrust.com) put out an episode (episode #2) on limerence a couple of years ago (which you can find on Stitcher here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/brad-morgan/healing-broken-trust/e/46682368) and define it as:
Infatuation, love sickness, romantic love, love addiction or obsessive love.
Brad and Morgan also describe limerence and affairs coming together as being:
Characterized by two individuals who believe they are in love. With this type, betrayers believe that they have fallen in love and they feel powerless over powerful emotions. And it’s not uncommon for them to feel guilty about what they are doing, but at the same time, they feel they are no longer in love with their spouse and know that they will never be happy unless they are with their lover.
The early warning signs: how limerance and affairs start
Before you read on please keep this in mind: I’m not blaming my affair on limerence and take full personal responsibility for my affair.
I was vulnerable to limerance and affairs far before I had an affair…
Prior to my affair, my life was fraught with challenges that left me vulnerable to limerence. My formative years were characterized by a strained and challenging relationship with my parents. I was also bullied at school for a number of years and all of my relationships prior to meeting my wife were harmful and destructive. I’ve spent my entire adult life feeling empty and needy in a way The Generous Husband describes as a fertile ground for limerence and affairs (https://www.the-generous-husband.com/2016/11/08/dont-let-limerence-destroy-your-marriage).
That’s not to say it was a secret. My wife has known my mental health, shall we say, could be immensely improved throughout our relationship. My wife’s a registered mental health professional and has done more for me to help improve my mental health than everybody in my life. Up to, during, and after my affair, my wife has consistently advocated for me to get healthy.
The burnout that leads to limerance and affairs…
I’d never considered this point until my wife encouraged me to listen to Healing Broken Trust episode #10 (https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/brad-morgan/healing-broken-trust/e/48252422), which talks about the reason why people experience limerance and affairs.
It hadn’t occurred to me that the reason I identified feeling depressed at the time of my affair was that I’d not only burned myself out but I’d burned my wife out too. I. Burned. Us. Out. I need to emphasise that. I don’t want any of you to have the impression I’m blaming my wife because I’m not. My mental health challenges had long since manifested themselves into my wife and I’s relationship. I burned out my wife with those challenges to the point where she was preparing to leave me before she knew I was having an affair. Early on in our relationship I essentially made my wife my nurse/carer and rushed to her when I couldn’t cope with my anxiety or depression. I allowed that to continue into our marriage by refusing to get help for the issues holding me back.
While I was doing this I was burning myself out too. I was relying on my girlfriend/fiancee/wife to give me acute emotional and psychological support. Psychological help was scary. I wasn’t engaging in help when I was unemployed and depressed. Nor was I engaging in help when I was sat on the couch with my wife, scribbling that I wanted to commit suicide. (There’s still a nagging part of me that thinks it’d been better if I had). I was burning my support network. I was burning through the limited resilience I had. Heaven knows I regret that.
Fresh fruit for rotting vegetables: How do limerence and affairs mix together?
Somebody’s interested in me…
I caused this fiasco by not listening to my wife and not getting help to be healthy. Somebody’s interested in me, though, so why should I do the work on myself? I look back at when I thought that way and cringing like heck.
Limerence began to form in my affair when my affair partner started to make flippant remarks about me (e.g. that she wishes she could clone me and that I had a single brother) that, in hindsight, should have rung air raid sirens in my head as our friendship was becoming inappropriate. My affair partner knows I experience imposter syndrome (https://www.atlassian.com/blog/inside-atlassian/impostor-syndrome-as-an-asset) at work. She knows I experience mental health challenges. I know, similarly (because she told me), her own marriage was separating. I knew, furthermore, that she experiences (or at least claims to) low self-esteem. It’s can hear you now, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s easy and I enjoyed it. I’m experiencing the rush of dopamine that comes with being repeatedly told I’m doing more than anybody (yeah, right – more on that later) to support a friend through an affair, I’m going to be a success, and my team is better with me in it. (She only has my phone number from supporting my job application for my role!). I’ve engaged and failed in therapy countless times so why would I want to go through that again when I can have my ego stroked to achieve validation instead? Urgh.
The emotional rollercoaster of limerance and affairs…
One of the most interesting insights for me in Healing Broken Trust episode #2 (and Dr Joe Beam’s video on the difference between love and limerence here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e-gKUh1Upo) is how limerence and affairs are an emotional rollercoaster.
I was spending my entire adult life searching for acceptance and validation. I didn’t know how to find acceptance in myself. Nor did I think it was possible to find it in myself either. That’s where my affair partner really came into her own. I take personal responsibility for my affair. There’s a blog about that. I won’t run away for that responsibility. That’s not to say, though, my affair partner doesn’t have any responsibility either. She put me on an emotional rollercoaster with the knowledge I experience anxiety and depression (a cynic might say that knowledge enabled her). I feel stupid for allowing her to put me on that rollercoaster.
She regularly impressed upon me that I’m great at the job in which I felt like an imposter, she told me she wishes she could clone me, she told me she wishes I had a single brother, she told me I was an amazing friend, and she told me she understands me. She told me all the things she could to make me feel accepted, validated, and not the piece of garbage I thought I was. Conversely, she also created and took opportunities to foster an environment in which I craved acceptance and validation. Throughout the affair, she threw in scenarios in which she was asked out on a mundane shopping trip and kept a physical distance from me. I assume she wanted me to feel jealous and needy.
I hated nothing about you…
This sickens me to my core. Dr Beam’s entirely on the mark when he says the affair partner can do wrong in a limerent affair. In any other circumstance, I can see clearly in front of my eyes what a toxic, poisonous, manipulative piece of shit she is. I missed it hidden in plain view.
Limerance and affairs go hand in glove here. My affair partner actively encouraged me to hide things from my wife. She actively discouraged me from talking to my wife and friends about the issues I was experiencing (and her of course!). Consequently, I isolated myself from the people I care about the most. Who came to my rescue, I hear you ask? Why it’s my affair partner. In a world in which I’m actively becoming more anxious and more depressed, there’s one person who has all the answers.
I didn’t see in front of my eyes the ways in which she manipulates situations. My eyes had closed to the idea that the could be the common denominator. She was saying all the right things. I was told I’m “beautiful inside and out” (both of which are arguably untrue!). I was being told I’m clever. She told me I’m going to be a success. More importantly, she systematically neglected to directly criticise me when there were many reasons to do so and hid them from me. I allowed her to create the perfect image of me. How could I criticise her?
The new map of hell: how limerance and affairs brought about my downfall
I was cold and distant…
As limerance began to take a hold on me my home life (and, more importantly, my wife and step son’s) became more damaging by the day.
My wife’s probably better placed to describe my behaviour during my affair. I’m probably on the mark, though, to say I was cold, distant, argumentative, aggressive, dishonest, dishonourable, arrogant, hubristic, and many other similar adjectives. That’s only the beginning, too. These behaviours drove my wife to the brink but I was also an emotional abuser. I gaslit my wife. Not only did I tell her she had nothing to worry about, I told her she was crazy. I lied to my wife and I abused her. While I feel stupid for allowing my affair partner to manipulate me I feel even more callous and cruel for the way in which I was treating my wife.
There’s no excuse for this in any marriage (and no room for it in a healthy one). I’m a toxic presence in my family’s wife and have been for now for years now. I reflect on that a lot. A pivotal aspect of my recovery is to practice gratitude so I can maintain a focus on what’s important in my life. Valuing my wife and family transforms the way I approach the world.
I felt out of control while experiencing limerence and affairs…
One of the most difficult messages I’ve tried to convey to people early on in my recovery is that I genuinely felt out of control of my emotions. I understand clearly that I made a conscious decision to engage in an inappropriate friendship. I understand I made a conscious decision to enter into an emotional affair. That’s clear as day.
After a lot of research and soul-searching, I also understand it’s possible to make conscious decisions while not feeling directly connected to the reality in which those decisions exist. That is to say, I know it’s wrong to commit adultery but I also know it’s possible to make decisions influenced by harmful biases and pain from damaging life experiences. Those things can be mutually exclusive.
This message is difficult for me to wrestle with as well. The honest truth is I still haven’t reconciled how I feel about it. There are days in which I feel as though I can legitimately say my decision-making ability was fucked up by my declining mental health and there are days in which I kick myself in the ass and ask what the heck that’s all about.
What did limerence and affairs cost me?
Dr Beam asks a poignant question at the end of his video about limerence. He asks what limerance and affairs cost him in his own life. My affair cost me so much and I’d like to reflect on those things hoping they’ll resonate with you.
- I destroyed my wife’s self-esteem (and so much more). I know that’s strictly speaking her self-esteem and not mine but we’re a team. My wife’s self-esteem was crushed before, during, and after my affair as a result of what I did. It counts and it’s the most important thing to me.
- My affair cost me my marriage (as I knew it). When I had an affair I destroyed everything that made our marriage what it was. I lost the trust and respect of my wife that was otherwise implicit.
- My affair also cost me my parenthood (as I knew it). I prided myself on being a positive role model to my step-son and I threw that away as well. My affair cost me his trust and respect as well and I’m prepared to fight to the death to get even an ounce of that back.
- I lost my values. Before my affair, I genuinely did consider myself to be a decent, honest, loving, respectful person. Heaven knows I was wrong. I threw away all of the attitudes and values I thought I had and found myself left with none at all when my affair was discovered.
- I lost my self-respect. It’s fair to say that, not unlike my values, I didn’t really have any self-respect at all. While I’ve spent my entire adult life living with anxiety and depression I thought I had some, but I threw that away as well when I made the biggest mistake of my life.
So what’s next…
I won’t tell you what to do because Heaven knows I’ve made heaps of mistakes and I’m still making them. All I want to say is do anything and everything you can to get help you need to understand where you’re at and where you want to go. Please. Limerance and affairs is the most toxic cocktail I’ve ever tasted (and my wife and I’ve tasted a lot of cocktails) and it will ruin your life, let alone your recovery.