Knowing how to respond to a limerent (cheating) spouse is important since he or she is obsessive, irrational, and acting outside of beliefs, values, and convictions.
Marriage expert Joe Beam shares valuable advice to anyone in a marriage who needs to know how to respond to a limerent (cheating) spouse in a way most likely to end up saving the marriage or working toward reconciliation.
Joe shares this information in answer to the following question submitted by a Family Savvy reader.
QUESTION: My husband is having an affair. He has gone from being a respected member of the community and church to a man who has thrown away all of his morals and values. He met a younger woman at the gym and “fell in love” with her. He told me that he doesn’t love me anymore, that he never loved me, and that he just wants to be with her. He wants a divorce, refuses counseling, and refuses to listen to his close frends and family who are trying to bring him back to sanity. Our kids are devastated. What do I do? I love him, but I don’t know him anymore. He is not the man I married. I fear that man is gone forever. Do I stay and fight, or do I move on?
Joe Beam, marriagehelper.com
ANSWER: I am so sorry to hear of your difficulty. Unfortunately, our team hears similar stories from wives and husbands every day. It seems that adultery runs rampant.
We live in a culture in which many make choices based on feelings rather than truth and convictions. Add to that the many novels, movies, and television programs that portray heart-rending stories of people leaving “bad” relationships for “true love” with another, and the result is a cultural mindset that is humanistic and self-centered.
Your question indicates that your husband bought into this “romantic” lie fostered in so many ways in our culture. He is enchanted with the younger woman to the point he has allowed his emotions to convince him that she is worth giving up things that were once important to him – God, you, his children, and the respect of people who once believed in him.
This out of character behavior, this change you see in your husband is typical of those wrapped up in the early stages of an affair. We call this emotional state limerence. It is very important for offended spouses to understand limerence and what behavior is likely to be demonstrated as an affair progresses.
You can read more about limerance in my book The Art of Falling In Love as well as in articles on my website. For now, I share a few basic principles describing how limerence typically manifests in the cheater’s behavior and mindset. I use the pronoun he, but the same applies to limerent women.
Description of a Limerent (Cheating) Spouse
- The person in limerence sees no flaw or negative characteristics in the object of his obsession. In his mind, she nears perfection. He believes that what he feels for her is unique~that he has never felt this way for anyone else before and could never feel this way for anyone else in the future. Additionally, anything associated with her – letters, gifts, places they visited together, etc. – becomes special.
- He thinks about her constantly, even when it affects his productivity at work. Think of him as an addict. She is the “fix,” so he obsesses about her. He experiences fluctuating emotions. When things go well with her, he feels ecstatic. When things go badly with her, he feels apprehension. He wants to possess her. He experiences jealousy if anyone pays attention to her or if she does things without his participation.
- He changes in ways he believes she wants him to change. Some people lose weight, change the way they dress, choose different hairstyles, or start new hobbies or activities that never interested them before the affair.
- His mind rewrites history in order to justify his involvement with her. He actually believes the new version of things. Therefore, when he tells you he never loved you, he believes this. You should not believe it.
- If anyone tries to intervene in his pursuit of her, he perceives that person as the enemy. Therefore, in a sense you are the enemy. So is your church. Same with any friends who do not approve. Eventually, if necessary to continue his actions, he may even see God as his enemy…or, as some do, change his belief system to one in which he believes that God wants him to be with the woman.
You likely have seen most or all of these behaviors in your cheating spouse, which is why you feel you no longer know him. In many ways, he is not the man you married; however, in many ways he still is~deep down inside.
The good news is that limerence does not last forever; it always ends. It must; no one could live with that level of emotional intensity for a lifetime. The bad news is that it may last several years, which in many cases is too late to save your marriage. If you want to try and save your marriage now, you should know how to deal with someone in a state of limerence.
Because of his emotional state, logic and reasoning have little power to counteract his involvement with her. Therefore, if you choose not to give up yet, but to fight to save him from his out-of-control emotions, you must address his emotions rather than his logic.
Since ongoing counseling is likely not an option he will consider, bartering for a weekend marriage intensive is likely your best hope. Although such a barter might seem frightening, it might be your last and only chance to salvage the marriage.
You may know of reputable, effective marriage intensives; if so, assess which one is likely to be most effective in stopping the limerent spouse from his or her destructive thoughts and behavior.
In or Marriage Helper 911 workshops, we have a 75% success rate of helping put crisis marriages back on the path toward hope and healing. For more information on our workshops, visit our website. You will find contact info as well if you want to speak with someone personally.
In some cases, a limerent spouse might continue to seeks an end the marriage. If this is your situation, I suggest you read part 2 of this topic, What to Do When Your Spouse Wants Out. I sincerely wish you the best. If ayone on our team can help, do not hesitate to contact us.