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3 Red Flags of Unhealthy Romantic Obsession

How to avoid becoming intoxicated by love.

Justin Groep / Unsplash
Justin Groep / Unsplash

“Limerence” in a relationship refers to a situation where individuals become deeply infatuated with a new romantic partner, often leading to a temporary neglect of other relationships, such as friendships and family ties. While this phase is considered a normal and natural part of the early stages of a relationship, akin to the honeymoon phase, it’s crucial to distinguish it from limerence, which warrants careful attention due to its potential negative consequences.

Limerence is characterized by intense infatuation and fixation on the new partner, referred to as the “limerent object.” It can disrupt daily life while hindering the development of positive relationships. This phase can be easily confused with the honeymoon phase of a relationship due to possible overlaps, but it’s important to differentiate between the two phenomena for better understanding and clarity.

How the Honeymoon Phase Differs From Limerence

While both limerence and the honeymoon phase involve intense feelings of infatuation and excitement, there are some key differences between the two.

  1. Nature of the relationship. Limerence typically involves one-sided infatuations, where intense feelings are felt for someone who may not reciprocate. There’s a longing for emotional reciprocation. In contrast, the honeymoon phase occurs at the start of a romantic relationship when both partners are mutually infatuated. It’s marked by excitement, passion and a sense of euphoria as everything feels perfect.
  2. Duration. Limerence can endure for months or even years, particularly if feelings remain unreciprocated or if the limerent object is idealized. In contrast, the honeymoon phase is shorter, lasting from a few weeks to several months as the relationship progresses from infatuation to a deeper bond.
  3. Reality versus fantasy. Limerence involves fantasizing and idealizing the limerent object, imagining romantic scenarios and future interactions with the object of affection. The honeymoon phase, while also marked by intense emotions, is grounded in reality as partners get to know each other better and experience the joys and challenges of building a relationship together.

What Causes Someone to Become Limerent

Limerence intensifies emotional attachment and infatuation with the new romantic partner to an unhealthy degree for at least two reasons:

  1. Activation of the attachment system one developed in childhood is one of the most common causes of limerence. During the limerence phase, the intense focus on the limerent object triggers the brain’s attachment system leading to a strong desire to form a secure bond with the partner. This may result in a temporary neglect of other relationships. Given its deep-rooted nature, attachment systems significantly influence individuals’ behavior and decision-making in their romantic relationships.
  2. The release of oxytocin—or the “love hormone”— during romantic interactions enhances social bonding and attachment. Oxytocin has been implicated in human bonding and trust, social memory, attachment as well as sexual behavior. This can lead to a hyperfocus on the new partner and a temporary neglect of other relationships. This hormonal surge can also intensify feelings of infatuation and fixation on the new partner.

Beyond impacting your primary romantic relationship, limerence can also significantly affect your friendships and other professional/personal responsibilities. This brings us to the next point:

The Consequences of Unchecked Limerence

  1. Strained interpersonal relationships. Limerence often leads to obsessive thoughts and behaviors directed toward the limerent object, which can strain existing relationships and hinder the formation of new ones. The individual may become preoccupied with fantasies about the limerent object, neglecting their responsibilities and social connections. This can result in feelings of resentment and hurt among friends who feel neglected or excluded.
  2. Unhealthy relationship dynamics. If a partner isolates themselves from their support network or demands all of their time, limerence can turn into a full blown pathology. Moreover, obsessive love can also contribute to the development of codependency, a dysfunctional relationship pattern characterized by one individual heavily relying on their partner for emotional support, validation and self-worth. In such cases, it is vital to have friends present to identify signs of an unhealthy relationship and seek assistance promptly to prevent further harm.

How to Remedy Relationship Limerence

To navigate limerence effectively, adopting a proactive approach and prioritizing both your new romantic relationship and your existing frienships and responsibilities is essential. First and foremost, open communication with friends and romantic partners about needs and boundaries is crucial. Here are three steps to establish clear boundaries between your romantic relationship and your other social connections:

  1. Time management. Prioritizing quality time with both friends and romantic partners enables individuals to maintain a healthy equilibrium between their relationships, ensuring that neither is overlooked.
  2. Engaging in group activities. Organizing events that involve both your friends and your partner, such as game nights, cooking classes or hikes, facilitates bonding and fosters inclusion while allowing friends to get to know each other better.
  3. Planning a “friendcation.” A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that during relationship conflicts that threaten the foundation of their bond, individuals often seek support from friends, both old and new, as well as family members, to strengthen their sense of security and connection. So, whether it’s a weekend getaway with friends or a trip with a friend to a new city, dedicating time to oneself and spending quality time with other friends can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially when one’s primary romantic relationship is in a state of flux.

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