union with her.
“I didn’t list everything, John, but that’s enough to get the picture. You are in limerence with Sheila, John, aren’t you?”
He tried to look smug, but could not pull it off. Instead, he demonstrated a mixture of anger, frustration, and anxiety. “Okay, mostly you described what I have with Sheila, but not exactly. Besides, when a person is in love, he feels those things. You described true love, nothing more, and I already told you that I truly love Sheila.”
“John, those things describe a particular type of love called limerence. Limerence isn’t always a bad thing. When two single people fall into limerence, nobody worries about them. But one reason we don’t worry, John, is because we know that their limerence is going to grow to a different kind of love. No one expects them to be in that euphoric romantic stage for the rest of their lives. If we did, we would worry, because we know that life cannot be lived that way for long. It is too exclusive, too selfish, and too unproductive for them as individuals, a couple, and for society as a whole. We expect them to develop a more mature and broader level of love that is not as intense but is much more fulfilling; a love based on giving as well as taking, a love that is much more secure and less driven by moods, a love that is stable rather than reactive.
“If you think that is what you will develop with Sheila and that will fulfill you as limerence subsides, you’re wrong for several reasons.
“The first is that the best person with whom to have the stable, long-lived kind of love is Melinda, your wife, the mother of your children.
“The second is that when the limerence subsides you will have lost your wife, your children, many of your friends, your church, and probably your own view of yourself. You’re trading all of that for the intense emotions that you feel today. How do you think you’re going to feel when that intense emotion no longer exists as it does now? We know from our work with thousands of marriages in crisis that you have a great likelihood of resenting Sheila. The object of your love probably will become the object of your resentment. While you’re in limerence, you won’t see her flaws. When limerence fades and you comprehend the costs of all you sacrificed for her, it is extremely likely that your mind will exacerbate her flaws. You’ll wonder how you were so blinded and you’ll resent what your relationship with her cost you. We see it every day. Nearly every person we work with who leaves his or her spouse for someone they love with limerence, and then marries that person, winds up divorced eventually.
“The third is how your relationship with your children will change. Same with dear friends, and people you love that you went to church with, but let’s concentrate on the kids. Sheila may love them, but she’ll never be their mother, even if Melinda were to die prematurely. Most kids resent the person their Dad left their Mom for, or that Mom left Dad for. They may treat her kindly, callously, or indifferently, based on how angry they are with you and whether or not they want to keep emotional connection with you. It’s terribly unfair to them, and ignoring reality, to expect them to love and cherish the person they’ll view as the destroyer of their family. If you delude yourself into thinking that they’ll get over it, or that they’re old enough to understand, your delusion won’t last long. Your kids will rupture that fantasy.
“Add to that the emotional logistics concerning who spends holidays and vacations where, what roles people play and who sits in what pew when your kids’ weddings occur, and how people interact when someone passes on.
“Finally, consider God’s view of all this. I bring that up because you mentioned your pastor and your past church involvement. The Bible you once believed says that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:10), and that adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). If you are honest with yourself, you know that you quit believing those because they contradict what you want to have with Sheila. However, as you abandon those beliefs for her, what changes inside of you? You see, part of your identity is your belief and value system. When you change that, you change you. That’s the principle behind conversion. When a person becomes a Christian, she becomes a different person because she changed her beliefs and values. It works in reverse as well, John. As you change your beliefs and values, you become a different person. Right now, in the depth of limerence, you probably don’t see it. If you do, you may not care. Believe me; you will see it in years to come if you pursue this course. If then you don’t care, it will be because of who you have become. Think you want to be that person, John?
“Your future will be determined by whether you choose to continue with the divorce and pursue Sheila, or to end things with Sheila and work out your marriage. I know that you feel that your marriage is hopeless, but that’s part of being in limerence. I’m fairly sure, John, that if I had met you before you developed relationship with Sheila, you might not have categorized your marriage as great, but you would not have listed any major problems, either. However, I’m just as sure that you now have a list of frustrations and disappointments with Melinda and your marriage. We call it rewriting history. That means that your mind actually focuses on any bad thing that happened with Melinda and makes it worse. Because of the intense emotions for Sheila, your own conscience had to justify your leaving Melinda. If you want to tell me all the terrible things about her, I’ll listen, but what you feel and believe about her now is tainted. Your memory is real, but it isn’t valid. Whether you meant to or not, you’ve changed things in your memory to make what you want to do acceptable.
“In short, John, unlike your pastor, I believe you love Sheila. I also know where this love leads. If you were both single, I’d congratulate you. But you are married. Divorcing your wife to be with Sheila creates negative consequences for you, Sheila, Melinda, your children, parents, friends, and the kingdom of God.
“You may justify it in your mind and proceed. It may even seem good for a while. Nevertheless, the limerence will fade. When it does, you will come face-to-face with the consequences for you and all those others I mentioned.
“We will help you then or we can help you now. If you let us help you now, there will be far fewer awful consequences. Do the right thing, John, and good things happen. They will not be as exhilarating as limerence, but they are much deeper and more fulfilling.”
His eyes indicated our conversation was over; he barricaded his mind and heart from me. I had anticipated that and had come on as strongly as I did because I feared I would have no second chance. Therefore, I had tried to plant as many seeds as possible.
That conversation occurred a few years ago.
Though hardly anyone believed it could happen, John decided to end his relationship with Sheila and try to restore his marriage. About a year after he made his decision, he explained it to me, “I hated you for saying it, but you were right. I’d become someone else because I had let go of what and who I am. After a lot of soul-searching, I realized I wanted to be me again. I loved Sheila, but finally accepted that the future I desired for us could never equal the fantasy I’d built in my mind. I wanted to be with her – there are days when I miss her intensely – but deep inside I wanted peace with myself, with my God, and with my children. At first, I didn’t really care about making peace or reconnecting with Melinda, but with time that worked out as well. I love her…guess in a way I always did. She’s a good woman and we have a good life. Not only did she forgive me, she stood up for me to her family, our friends, and our church when she took me back.
“It feels good to know I did what was right. Always will.”
John and Melinda worked on healing their marriage. They allowed me to help them understand how he had fallen into limerence, how to heal their marriage, and how to learn to love each again. Actually, they learned how to love each other more than they ever had before.
It was not easy for John or Melinda. His deep emotions for Sheila did not end immediately. They had taken time to develop and, therefore, they took time to reside. During the process, John went through a grief process similar to those experienced by people who lose loved ones to death. However, he worked through it.
Admirably, Melinda understood and coped with amazing strength. She forgave John. She forgave Sheila, though for obvious reasons she maintained no contact with her. Neither did John, though when he ended his relationship with Sheila, he worried about her future. Sheila reacted badly initially, but eventually she, too, healed her heart and moved on. She fell in love with a good man. Wisely, she told him her experience and they sought counsel before they married. They, too, have a good marriage.
The story of John, Melinda, and Sheila is neither unique nor rare. Sometimes the husband falls into limerence with another. Other times the wife. While the dynamics change slightly, the same principles apply. With the right help, their marriage can be saved and they can love each other more deeply than before.
We see it every day.
If we can help your marriage, whether there is infidelity or any other problem, call us toll free at 866-903-0990 or click here to request more information on our marriage-changing workshop.