This question came via email:
“I have been married to a man for 20 years (2 children later) that I do not and have never loved like I feel I should. I married in a rush and BECAUSE I felt like that’s what God wanted for me at the time. I almost left him at the altar. I have been loving and caring, and submissive. I have prayed for all these years for God to give me the love I need. Well, recently I have fallen ‘madly in love’ with a person that I have a work relationship with. There is no sex involved. I have been faithful. I have never had these feelings for anybody in my LIFE. My question is what do I do with this? It absolutely breaks my heart that I have never had this kind of love feeling in my life ever and now I do. I felt like in my prayer time in May, God told me to hold on, be faithful, and trust him and my passion and desire would come. Well, it did, for a different person. And I am still doing what God said. This other person has asked me would I consider marrying him if the circumstances were different. Any advice?”
I wish I could label this an atypical question, but unfortunately, I get this more than any other. Many people – including Christian men and women – find themselves madly in love with someone other than their spouses. Therefore, rather than answering it for one person, I hope to answer it for thousands. While I address it specifically to the woman who sent the email, the application is to all who find themselves in this situation.
The best word to describe your feelings for the “other man” is limerence. Limerence is a feeling of being madly in love with someone. Among its many characteristics are obsessive thinking about that person, changing things about yourself to please that person, and perceiving anyone who stands between you and that person as an enemy. It is a euphoric sensation that has no comparison. Those in limerence generally feel that no one else possibly can understand what it feels like because there is nothing else close to it in our emotional experiences. “I’ve never felt this way before,” or “You cannot possibly comprehend,” are oft-used phrases by those in limerence. The person making those statements believes them absolutely to be true.
However, that usually is incorrect.
It feels that way because such feelings of closeness and desire almost always rewrite history. That means that the person in limerence usually cannot remember feeling anything similar to this before, yet there may be objective evidence that s/he actually has.
Allow me to explain.
One man I know said almost verbatim the statements you made in your question. “I do not and have never loved [my wife] like I feel I should. I married in a rush and BECAUSE I felt like that’s what God wanted for me at the time. I almost left [her] at the altar.” He, too, had prayed for years “God…give me the love I need.” He made those statements to a marriage counselor he and his wife were seeing. He had not gone to save the marriage but to salve his conscience. At the beginning of the next session, the counselor asked the wife to produce the love letters her husband had written to her when they were courting years before. The things he wrote in those letters disproved what he now believed about how he felt then. They showed that he did love her. As he read his own words, written in his own hand, he denied them. No, he had never felt that way toward his wife. He claimed that the feelings he had for the new woman in his life had never before occurred for him. Yet, the proof was right there in his own handwriting. We call it rewriting history. That means our minds change our memories so that we are justified in what we currently feel or do. That is why he could so vividly remember his wedding day case of fear and doubt but could not remember the intense positive emotions he held for his bride.
Can I say for certainty that you have rewritten history? No. However, I am very likely correct. It would be interesting to find the love letters you wrote back then, or scan the things you scribbled in notebooks or elsewhere. If we could catch a time machine, it would be fascinating to see how you acted.
No matter what you felt back then, you do not say that you do NOT love your husband. Instead, you state that you “do not and have never loved like I feel I should.” That statement speaks more to a desire for the intensity of new romance than the deep love that develops over time. You wanted more emotionally, prayed for it, and now have it with another man. But what you are describing is the intensity of newness. Even if you married the new man, with time that intensity would diminish and you would have a love – if you still loved him at all – that is not always exciting and fulfilling on every given day. Intense romantic love feels great, but it was never intended to be the norm over a lifetime. Security, safety, understanding, acceptance, caring, and a host of other emotions better describe what makes a long-term relationship work. Those emotions are deeper but not ecstatic like new love is.
Unfortunately, we live in a society which touts romantic love as the “be all end all” on TV, in movies, in magazine articles, in novels, and so forth. Yet the people who produce those things will not have that level of intense romance for a lifetime, either. As the work of Helen Fisher, PhD, has proven, that kind of intensity is meant to bring us together, not keep us together. It has to fade with time so that our lives can be balanced and not obsessively focused on one person. That is why limerence rarely lasts as long as three years.
You feel heartbroken now because you long for the intensity you currently feel, but know that to pursue it is to sin. If you were to leave your husband for this man, you would violate your marriage covenant. Would the “feeling” be worth it? You might think it is in the short-term, but when the limerence began to fade – as it must – you would have to face the fact that you sought temporary ecstasy over long-term good. You would be looking to God to make things right knowing that He had always looked to you to do things right.
Do the following things so that you may stay faithful.
- Do NOT think about a possible future with this man. You write, “This other person has asked me would I consider marrying him if the circumstances were different.” Not only must you NOT answer that question, do NOT allow yourself to think about that question. As Michael Johnson, PhD, has shown in his study about commitment, even thinking about an alternative to your spouse will weaken your commitment to him. Whenever you find yourself daydreaming about what life would be like with the new man, immediately ask God to take that thought away from you and to lead you into the thoughts and actions of a Godly woman.
- End all contact with the new man. You said that your contact with him is through a work relationship. End that relationship now. As long as you are in contact with him either face-to-face, by writing, by phone, or in any other way, the intense emotions you feel may remain strong long enough for them to destroy your marriage. Even if it costs your losing a great income, great insurance, or a great workplace, do NOT allow yourself to stay in a situation of temptation. When Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead me not into temptation” He did not expect us to stay in the face of the temptation. As we ask God to do His part to deliver us, we, too, must do our part to avoid the temptation.
- Listen to God. You wrote, “I felt like in my prayer time in May, God told me to hold on, be faithful, and trust him and my passion and desire would come.” I am happy for you that you feel He told you to be faithful. Read it in Hebrews 13:4, “Have respect for marriage. Always be faithful to your partner, because God will punish anyone who is immoral or unfaithful in marriage.” (Contemporary English Version) Be assured of this, God did NOT send you another man to fall in love with so that you would leave your husband. He does NOT violate His law. We should not either.
- Seek help. The emotions you feel may grow stronger. As most of us have learned in life, when emotions and logic battle each other, emotion often wins. If you feel that you are strong enough to handle this by yourself, you are in danger. Find a Godly woman or a shepherd in the kingdom that you trust. Ask for their understanding, help, and accountability.
- Work on your marriage. Come to our workshop or find yourself a great Christian marriage counselor. The love you wish to feel can occur with your husband, even if it is not there right now. It will not be the intensity of limerence, but it can be much deeper and much more fulfilling.
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