What is Dark Limerence?

Dark Limerence

Limerence, a term coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the 1970s, describes the intense, involuntary, and often obsessive infatuation with another person typically experienced in the early stages of a romantic relationship.

This phenomenon, often referred to as the honeymoon phase, is characterized by euphoric feelings, heightened emotional responses, and a powerful desire for reciprocation from the object of affection.

However, there exists a darker side to limerence, a state that a coach on my staff, Coach Ken, termed “dark limerence,” which emerges after a breakup, separation, or divorce that leads to an intense longing, sorrow, and over-romanticization of the past.

This article explores the concept of dark limerence, how it manifests, and its psychological impact.

Understanding Limerence

The Honeymoon Phase

The honeymoon phase is a well-known concept in romantic relationships, often seen as the period when two individuals first fall in love and experience an exhilarating rush of emotions.

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During this phase, partners often idealize each other, focusing on their positive qualities and overlooking any flaws.

The world seems brighter, and every interaction is filled with excitement and joy.

This period can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the individuals involved and the dynamics of their relationship.

Limerence is at the heart of the honeymoon phase.

It involves a chemical cocktail of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, adrenaline and serotonin, which create feelings of pleasure, excitement, and obsessive thinking about the LO (limerent object).

The individual experiencing limerence often has intrusive thoughts about their partner, an overwhelming desire for emotional reciprocation, and an intense fear of rejection.

Dark Limerence

While limerence is typically associated with the blissful beginnings of a romantic relationship, dark limerence is a less discussed but equally powerful phenomenon that can occur when a relationship ends.

Dark limerence is characterized by an obsessive and often painful longing for a former partner, driven by feelings of loss, sorrow, and an idealized memory of the past relationship.

The Psychology of Dark Limerence

The Trigger: Breakup or Rejection

Dark limerence is often triggered by a breakup or the rejection of one’s romantic advances.

When a relationship ends, especially if it was unexpected or undesired by one party, the intense emotional and chemical bonds formed during limerence do not simply disappear.

Instead, they can morph into a potent mix of grief, longing, and an obsessive desire to reclaim what was lost.

Over-Romanticization of the Past

One of the hallmarks of dark limerence is the tendency to over-romanticize the past relationship.

The individual may focus intensely on the positive memories and experiences, often exaggerating their significance and ignoring any negative aspects or conflicts that existed.

This idealization can create a distorted perception of the past, making it even more difficult to move on.

Sorrow and Longing

The sorrow experienced during dark limerence is profound.

It is not merely sadness over the loss of a relationship but an intense, consuming grief that can feel overwhelming.

This sorrow is often accompanied by a longing that seems insatiable—a desperate desire to reconnect with the lost partner and recapture the feelings of limerence.

This longing can manifest in various ways, such as obsessively thinking about the ex-partner, replaying memories, and even engaging in behaviors like stalking social media profiles or attempting to contact the ex-partner repeatedly.

The Role of Neurochemistry

Just as the neurochemical processes play a significant role in the honeymoon phase, they are equally influential in dark limerence.

The brain’s reward system, which was once activated by the presence and affection of the partner, now becomes a source of pain when deprived of those stimuli.

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The same chemicals that created feelings of euphoria and attachment can now contribute to feelings of withdrawal, similar to those experienced by someone addicted to a substance.

The Impact of Dark Limerence

Emotional and Mental Health

The emotional toll of dark limerence can be severe.

Individuals may experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

The obsessive nature of dark limerence can lead to rumination, where the individual continuously replays past events and interactions, further entrenching their trauma, sorrow and longing.

This constant mental activity can be exhausting and detrimental to one’s overall mental health.

Social and Occupational Impact

Dark limerence can also have a significant impact on an individual’s social and occupational life.

The preoccupation with the lost relationship can lead to withdrawal from social activities, as the person may find it difficult to engage with others or find joy in activities they once enjoyed.

At work, the inability to focus and the emotional turmoil can lead to decreased productivity and even job loss in severe cases.

Impaired Decision-Making

The obsessive nature of dark limerence can impair decision-making. Individuals may make choices based on their desire to reconnect with their ex-partner or alleviate their emotional pain rather than rational considerations.

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This can lead to poor decisions, such as pursuing unhealthy coping mechanisms or engaging in risky behaviors.

Coping with Dark Limerence

Acknowledgment and Acceptance

The first step in coping with dark limerence is acknowledging and accepting its existence.

Recognizing that the intense feelings of longing and sorrow are a natural response to the end of a meaningful relationship can help individuals approach their emotions with compassion and understanding.

Seeking Support

Professional help, such as therapy or counseling, can be invaluable for individuals struggling with dark limerence.

Therapists can provide tools and strategies for managing obsessive thoughts, processing grief, and fostering emotional healing.

Support groups or talking to trusted friends and family can also provide comfort and a sense of connection.

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Mindfulness and Self-Care

Practicing mindfulness and self-care can help individuals cope with the intense emotions associated with dark limerence.

Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help calm the mind and reduce rumination.

Engaging in self-care activities, such as exercise, hobbies, and spending time in nature, can provide a positive distraction and promote emotional well-being.

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries with oneself and the ex-partner is crucial in the healing process.

This might involve limiting or eliminating contact with the ex-partner, avoiding places and activities associated with them, and removing reminders of the relationship.

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These steps can help create space for emotional recovery and reduce the triggers for obsessive thoughts.

Building a New Narrative

Reframing the narrative of the past relationship can be a powerful tool in overcoming dark limerence.

Instead of viewing the relationship as a perfect, irreplaceable experience, individuals can work on seeing it as a chapter in their life that had both positive and negative aspects.

This balanced perspective can help in accepting the end of the relationship and moving forward.


Dark limerence is a complex and often painful phenomenon that can emerge when a romantic relationship ends.

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Characterized by intense longing, sorrow, and over-romanticization of the past, it can have significant emotional, social, and occupational impacts.

Understanding the psychology behind dark limerence and adopting coping strategies can help individuals navigate this challenging experience and eventually find healing and peace.

While the journey through dark limerence can be difficult, it also offers an opportunity for personal growth and a deeper understanding of one’s emotional landscape.


Coach Lee

About Coach Lee

Coach Lee, Master of Marriage & Family Counseling, helps people save relationships. He developed the Emergency Breakup Kit, a powerful guide to winning back an ex. Get information on the Kit by Clicking Here! If your MARRIAGE is struggling, get his free mini-course on saving a marriage.

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