“When love is not madness, it is not love.” - Pedro Calderon de la Barca
John A. Lee defined mania as being “characterized by obsessiveness, jealousy, possessiveness, and intense dependency, mania may be expressed in anxiety, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, headaches, and even suicide because of real or imagined rejection. Manic lovers are consumed by thoughts of their beloved and have an insatiable need for attention and signs of affection.” [i]
Of all the kinds of love, mania is one of those that seems frequently drawn up in many romantic movies and stories. It most fits the stereotypical clingy girlfriend or boyfriend bent on controlling the relationship, who calls you every five seconds to make sure you still love them and that you’re not cheating. It’s the kind that makes everyone who’s not also feeling mania roll their eyes at you when you exclaim how much in love you are.
Yes, mania definitely has its counterproductive points in the spectrum of love. It can sound more like coveting or lust, but it also has a positive side too.
Good Uses of Mania
After reading John Lee’s definition, you may ask “How in the world could this be a love the Lord could approve of?”
My answer to that would be, “Do you remember how you felt when you and your spouse were engaged? Remember how it was hard to be away from each other? How you could have spent every waking moment with each other?”
This is also mania in action, and the Lord very much approves of it in this context. He, in fact, chemically designed us to respond to each other this way so that we will want to get married and enjoy being together for long periods of time.
“…to multiply and to replenish the earth, has been repeated as a sacred instruction to every faithful and true Latter-day Saint young man and young woman married in holy wedlock. To the end that this sacred purpose of parenthood be realized, our Creator has placed within the breast of every…man and woman a strong mutual attraction for each other, which acquaintance ripens in friendship, thence through the romance of courtship, and finally matures into happy marriage. But now mark you, never once has God issued such a command to unmarried persons!”[ii]
To understand how mania is love (or at least a characteristic of love), it also goes by another more modern name - limerance. Limerance helps us understand what is happening inside us biologically when we are feeling mania.
Dr. Joe Beam describes limerance this way:
“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.”[iii]
Misunderstandings About Mania
There’s an inherent danger that comes with our cultural perceptions of mania, however, that we can fall into if we’re not careful.
First of all, limerance, or mania, is like rocket fuel. It’s great for getting the rocket out of the gravity of the atmosphere, but the rockets aren’t turned on during the whole space trip.
In other words, limerance wears off eventually. It’s supposed to. If we tried to live at mania level our whole lives, we wouldn’t get anything done. We’d burn ourselves out. Mania in any relationship eventually makes way for other, different feelings of love.[iv]
Another pitfall that we face, and that we sometimes see happening to our brothers and sisters both inside and outside the Church, is that mania can still come upon us after we are married. Love for our spouse does not prevent this from happening. We can feel mania/limerance for many different people throughout our lives. A love for only one person that lasts for decades without any work on our part is not possible.[v]
Mania can be triggered by knowledge that someone else feels loving feelings toward you. It can also be triggered by a complicated set of biochemical interactions that can happen below our conscious level of knowledge.
Knowing this, however, empowers us to know what is happening when it hits, and how to handle it if and when it comes.
How does this understanding of mania apply to the LDS marriage?
When you’ve fallen head-over-heels for someone and you marry them, congratulations! Expect these heady, passionate feelings to last anywhere from six months to four years after your marriage. When it fades, that’s okay. Other, equally valuable kinds of love will take its place.
When you’re caught in the throes of limerance, understand that you’re not seeing things clearly. If you’re trying to decide if you should marry a person you feel limerance for, get input from trusted people close to you who aren’t in limerance for that person. They can help you see if you’re truly making a good decision. And trust them. It will be hard to do, but try to listen and take what they’re saying into account.
Also be sure to involve the Lord, but understand that when the Lord tells you your decision to marry is good, that does not mean your marriage will forever be free of trouble and sorrow and pain. No one’s relationship is.[vi] Enjoy limerance while it lasts, if you are both newly married, and in a position to fully enjoy it.
If you choose to continue the courtship after marriage (keeping up the weekly dating you did while you were engaged), you can incorporate some aspects of limerance much more deeply into your relationship. You can also more easily remember and utilize those limerance feelings on a short-term basis later on throughout marriage.
What if I’m married, and I feel mania for someone I’m not married to?
When we make sacred covenants to the Lord in His house, and with our spouse, the Lord expects us to keep them, no matter how we feel about it later.[vii] While people in the world may feel this circumstance means that they are no longer ‘in love’ with their spouse and should ‘follow their passion’, mania is not the only kind of love in the world, nor is it always a good idea to follow it.
We are not meant to be controlled by our feelings in circumstances such as these. Here are some quick tips for those who find themselves feeling limerance for another, and who should not follow it:
- Remember that there are eight different kinds of love, not just mania, and that mania does eventually fade out. Those who leave their spouses and follow feelings of mania for another often regret their choice when the mania fades.
- Understand that you are not thinking clearly at the moment. There are chemicals in your body that are combining to create this feeling, and you don’t have any responsibility for that – sometimes the feeling is just ‘chemistry’. Again, those chemicals will work their way out of your system eventually; it just feels like it will last forever while it’s happening.
- Something that’s very hard to do, but can be very helpful, is to communicate openly your feelings of mania for another to your spouse. I would be careful here though. This can be painful for your spouse to hear, that you’re feeling these feelings for another person instead of them. It can shake them pretty strongly, depending on their own cultural beliefs.
- If you feel that your spouse might not take such
a revelation well, ask to get some counseling, either together or alone with a
trusted counselor who can help you work through these feelings. If you can
support each other this way, and share these feelings with your spouse while
still reassuring them that you want to be with them, it can help moderate limerance
tremendously. Make sure the counselor understands the nature of mania, and that
you are committed to your current relationship.
- Make a pact with each other that, if limerance ever develops for someone else other than your spouse, you agree to talk about it openly with each other, and that you will listen without judgment. This has great power to dispel feelings of limerance and also can strengthen your relationship with your spouse, especially if you can laugh about it together.
- Learning to take responsibility for your own sexuality, and learning to differentiate from your spouse, will make it easier to support each other in this way.[viii]
- Continue to take loving actions in your own marriage (‘love’ is also a verb)[ix], and think with gratitude regularly on all the things your spouse does for you. Building up your current relationship will strengthen the possibility that it will stay strong. Build and develop trust with each other.
- If possible, remove yourself from contact with the person you feel limerance for. Resist any imaginings of a future together with them. The person you are imagining likely has been distorted by the limerance, and doesn’t really exist in reality.[x]
- Do not, under any circumstances, share those feelings of mania with the person you feel them for, or with anyone else who might share what you said with that person either. Don’t buy into the false belief system that ‘you should always tell someone how you feel about them, especially if you love them’. Not only could you spark those same feelings in them where they didn’t exist before, but your own mania could intensify and make the likelihood of adultery that much more certain.
- Fasting can help bring those feelings back under control. A sexual fast in our marriage can help to spark those same feelings for each other again, instead of for other people.[xi]
- Understand that, if you follow mania for someone else when you’re married, everyone in your family, your extended family, and your friends will feel the saddening and weakening effects of the destruction of your marriage. If the other person is married, their family and friends will also be hurt. If it helps, think about how much intense love you feel for that person, and how much you don’t ever want to hurt them. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is to leave them alone and wish them well, instead of creating deeper intimacy where it should not be created.
- Find some sort of creative outlet for these feelings, if it helps, while you’re waiting for them to burn themselves out. Use whatever avenue of creation you like – physical, mental, or spiritual. Seek to use the extra energy and power of mania to create instead of to destroy, as a child of your Heavenly Father should do.[xii]
Next time: Storge – the love that presents itself after mania wears off…
[i] Lee, John A.
[ii] Lee, Harold B, Stand Ye In Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee, Deseret Book, 1975, 330-39
[iii] Beam, Joe. I’m in Love With Another Man, Beam Research Center, 1999-2012. http://joebeam.com/in_love_with_another_man.htm
[iv] “Much to the dismay of diehard romantics, research suggests that limerence is the result of biochemical processes in the brain. Responding to cues from the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland releases norepinephrine, dopamine, phenylethylamine (a natural amphetamine), estrogen and testosterone. This chemical cocktail produces the euphoria of new love and begins to normalize as the attachment hormones (vasopressin and oxytocin) kick in, typically six to 24 months into a relationship. In much the same way that changes in the brain cause drug addicts to feel an intense, all-consuming draw to get and use drugs, limerence can drive people to extremes in the pursuit of the object of their affection.” – David Sack, MD, as quoted in the Huffington Post (italics added): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sack-md/limerence_b_1627089.html
[v] See Joe Beam’s article about the concept of a ‘soul-mate’ at the Marriage Helper website: http://www.marriagehelper.com/soul_mate.php
[vi] Kimball, Spencer W. Oneness in Marriage. Ensign. March 1977, pg. 3: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/03/oneness-in-marriage?lang=eng
[vii] Doctrine & Covenants 132:4
[viii] An excellent source for learning about emotional fusion and the importance of differentiation in a long-term marriage relationship is Passionate Marriage, by Dr. David Schnarch. There is some ‘intense’ language in the book, but it’s still worth reading for LDS couples.
[ix] Covey, Stephen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster; 1989. 79-80
[x] Read the section entitled ‘Never see or communicate with a former lover’ in the article entitled, ‘Coping with Infidelity, Part Two: How Should Affairs End?’ by Dr. Bill Harley at this link: http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi5060_qa.html
[xi] See my article on an ancient Hebrew sex secret that really works: http://ldsmarriagebed.blogspot.com/2011/01/ancient-hebrew-sex-secret.html?zx=e50c2350d9807bc6
[xii] Claudine Bigelow speaks about how to use creativity to grow closer to the Lord in a speech at BYU: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/claudine-bigelow_creativity/