When a married person with strong values winds up in a limerent relationship with another person, it leads to cognitive dissonance. In that state, the person is emotionally and mentally miserable because their actions are in disharmony with their beliefs and values. There are only two ways to resolve cognitive dissonance:
1.) Stop the behavior that is contradictory to one’s beliefs
2.) Modify one’s beliefs to make that behavior acceptable
Those who stop the behavior, leave the limerent relationship relatively early and quite often ask for forgiveness and reconciliation. They want to be the person they were and to live by the beliefs and values they previously held.
Modifying Beliefs and Values
Those who modify their beliefs and values to make the limerent relationship acceptable find a type of peace within because the cognitive dissonance weakens dramatically or even ends. My experience (and similar experiences shared with me by many) is that the peace isn’t complete. It’s enough to justify the new lifestyle but it feels down deep as if something is missing.
Modifying former beliefs and values to make one’s actions acceptable to self means changing beliefs, at least to a degree. Some dismiss God and find justification in either no religion or one that is very different from what they were before. Others continue to believe God exists but they change churches to find one that accepts their new lifestyle as okay with God. Yes, there are many churches like this. Some because they think they are practicing grace when in reality they are enabling rebellious sin. That’s not new; it happened in the first century. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 shows us this when the apostle Paul writes, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (NIV). As you can see, they were apparently proud of their tolerance but Paul blasted them for what they were doing. Others have so watered down the Bible that they are for whatever people claim they do in “love” even if that is destructive to the families they are leaving.
So What Happens When the Limerence Finally Fades?
Does the person automatically revert to his/her former beliefs and values? Typically, no. It does happen, I’ve witnessed it many times, but my experience is that more often they continue on the path they’ve set for themselves by modifying their previous beliefs and values. Therefore, rather than trying to reconcile their marriages, they drift…at least for a while.
Why don’t they revert immediately to their former beliefs and values? There are different reasons. Some do not return to their beliefs and values because of shame and guilt. Some think that their new beliefs and values offers them more freedom to do what they wish without restrictions. Others like the lack of responsibility. And some have so vilified their former spouse, their church, their religion, or even God himself that they are convinced that they should not return to any of those former things. Unfortunately, some have experienced so much unkindness and meanness from their spouses, family, in-laws, friends, even the church that they feel that they have irrefutable proof that they shouldn’t return to their former life.
Does that mean that there is no hope for those people ever coming back to their marriages? No, it doesn’t mean that. However, it does mean that the path likely won’t be straight or short.
A guy I know left his wife because of a limerent relationship with another person. He modified his belief and value system. When finally the limerent relationship ended, he did not return to his wife. He liked the freedom. He had been treated very cruel by many who had been his church family. All but two of his friends had deserted him completely. He heard the nasty things people had said about him, the things they had done behind his back to hurt him, and the cruel joy that some experienced at his fall. While it wasn’t his wife who had done those things, he had no intention of returning to her because those were the people in her world. Additionally, he had so vilified her to justify his departure that he viewed her in a very negative way. He didn’t want back into that.
You may recall that I often teach that people don’t leave what they have unless they believe what they are going to is better. He had left his wife because he believed being with the LO (Limerent Object) was better. He didn’t return to his wife when the relationship with the LO ended because for all the reasons listed above–I felt being alone was better than being with her. It was over the next couple of years that he began to view his wife differently because of her own growth, her strength, and the way she was moving on with her life. Even then, he had to reach a point in his life where he wanted to return to his original belief and value system. Another way to say that is that he reached a point where he wanted to be himself again…the man he was before.
Be the “Better”
We teach that if you wish to reconcile your marriage, you become the “better” than what your spouse has now. That’s done by being a safe place, by being strong and not a doormat, by developing yourself into even a better you, and by trying not to react to every dumb thing your spouse says or does. As I often say… Be calm. Be strong. Be gentle.
Sometimes it even means moving on with your life so that your spouse doesn’t perceive you as being a surefire fallback in case other plans don’t work as they expect. Now, NOT moving on to manipulate but truly making a new life for yourself, yet with the willingness to consider reconciliation if your straying spouse wants to try to put things back together. And definitely NOT just saying, “come on back” but with a plan for reconciliation that solves old problems and creates a new and better life together.
A tough balancing act? Yes. Sometimes confusing as to how to handle a specific thing? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. However, we’ve witnessed it working thousands of times. Therefore, we know it can be done. We regularly suggest that the couple attend our Marriage Helper 911 Workshop even when the straying spouse isn’t willing to work on the marriage, because in the workshop, we are very often able to speed the process by helping both of you understand some crucial things about how you got to where you are, where current behaviors are leading (for both of you), and how you can put it back together if both of you choose to do so.
When limerence is fading or gone, that’s a good thing. A very good thing. But remember that it is only one step on the path to making your marriage good again. If your spouse was in limerence, ended it, and came asking for reconciliation, wonderful. If your spouse was in limerence, ended it, but is still straying, don’t panic. It is still possible to reconcile the marriage. Not a guarantee, you understand, but very possible if you understand how to be the “better.”
Here are our upcoming Marriage Helper 911 Workshop dates and locations.