A RESEARCH-BASED APPROACH TO RELATIONSHIPS
The early stages of a romantic relationship is called limerence. Limerence is the easy, involuntary part of being in love with another person. It’s commonly associated with “having a crush” or “puppy love” or the “honeymoon phase.” The limerence phase is usually marked by a near-obsessive infatuation, strong sexual attraction, and an often-overwhelming desire for reciprocation. Limerence is the period of hope, not only for what the relationship is, but for what the relationship could one day be.
Limerence is a lot of fun. It’s also pretty dangerous. Consider some of the scary words in the previous paragraph: involuntary, obsessive, overwhelming, even hope. All of these things allow us to suspend judgement and ignore and forgive things that deserve more examination. Perhaps the most dangerous word, however, is phase. Limerence, as a phase, lasts approximately 2 years. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this is roughly how long the “newlywed period” lasts. It’s also pretty consistent with the time it takes many couples to meet, date, and decide to marry.
The trouble is, when limerence expires, the real work of love begins. The blinders fall off and the puppy love is forced to evolve into something more dogged. The relationship is no longer sustained by romantic attraction. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist. It’s just not a sustaining force. When limerence expires, couples see the relationship in a more realistic light. Often the warning signs they ignored early on remain as subtle but persistent seeds of contempt, a powerful relationship killer. It is critical that new couples protect themselves from this future now.
The second level of the Sound Relationship House, Share Fondness and Admiration, represents the foundation for that protection. Sharing fondness and admiration is a friendship skill which serves as the antidote for contempt. When I work with new couples, they always want to skip this step. They claim it as one of the strengths of their relationship. Of course it’s a strength. That’s the power of limerence. But limerence is a phase. It’s important that couples develop systems of fondness and admiration that last beyond the initial crush.
Let’s look at them separately beginning with fondness. What does fond even mean? Does anyone use that word anymore? It sounds to me like something Mr. Darcy would say to Jane Eyre (I know they’re not in the same book, but you get what I’m saying). Fondness is affection, often naive, for another. To share it is to make it more mature. It’s not enough to say “I’m fond of you.” It’s important to share why. “I’m fond of you” includes:
“Im proud of you.”
“I’m attracted to you.”
“I’m impressed by you.”
“I like you.”
“I’m proud of the way you _____.”
“I’m attracted to your _____ (inside and out).”
“I am impressed that you _____.”
“I like how you _____.”
Take a minute right now to fill in the blanks. And find some time over the next week to say these sentences out loud to your partner. You may believe that your partner already knows this stuff, but I guarantee they’ll enjoy hearing you say out loud. Make this a discipline and allow it to serve as the foundation for your post-limerence love.
In addition to proactive fondness, couples must learn to show appreciation. Appreciation is an expression of one of my personal favorite values: gratitude. I wrote about gratitude in my Relationship Alphabet series. Showing appreciation is primarily about saying “thank you.” There is no reason not to include “thank you” as part of your everyday vocabulary. For making the bed. For passing the butter. For sharing your fondness. But thanks must extend beyond “what you do for me” and into “who you are.”
One of my favorite Gottman exercises is called “I Appreciate…” It’s on page 67 & 68 of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The exercise is simply a list of positive adjectives: