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Hypnotic Love: Chemistry and Limerence


When two romantically interested people have instant feelings of connection and comfort, they are experiencing relational chemistry. Chemistry is a reflexive and automatic phenomenon; that is, it is simultaneously and mutually experienced by oppositely compatible people. People often refer to this reaction as feeling “sparks” or love at first sight. The chemistry provokes a shared emotional experience of hope, excitement, and anticipation. It is not unusual for these bonded people to throw caution to the wind and move moderately-to-rapidly forward into a courtship process. This is when strong sexual impulses occur, or what I call the urge to merge.

Chemistry cannot happen without the opposite matching of the codependent and narcissist dancers. It doesn’t matter if they met through a carefully coordinated and vetted process or by happenstance. Whether brought together through a blind date, Internet dating service or app, or Aunt Yente (matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof ), the chemistry reaction will determine if the date ends with a perfunctory handshake and the insincere suggestion to just be friends, or a mutually dreamy experience that has no boundaries and begs to never end.

Although unconscious forces are the primary cause of chemistry, conscious choice and preferences play a significant role in how lasting romantic relationships form. Simply put, the conscious mind gets the person to the dance, while the unconscious mind gets them to dance (and not stop!).   I have created three categories of chemistry, each representing different configurations of personality couplings:

Positive Chemistry: The perfect matching of personality types, which results in comfortable familiarity and feeling safe. This is where “fireworks” and intense infatuation take place. It can be the playground of both healthy and dysfunctionally matched lovers. It is exponentially more intense for dysfunctional matches like codependents and narcissists.

Neutral Chemistry: When both people are more like each other, but are not unhealthy or emotionally impaired. It is a bland, almost sister-brother experience with neither excitement nor discomfort.

Negative Chemistry: When two dysfunctionally similar personalities con- nect, such as two pathological narcissists or two codependents. This can
be a very uncomfortable and even upsetting situation.

Our brains are responsible for the lasting excitement that follows the chemistry- bonded relationship. As much as we want to externally explain pre- and post- chemistry excitement, the real cause is our brain’s overproduction of interacting hormones and neurotransmitters. To explain this emotional and biochemical process, Dorothy Tennov (1979) coined the term “limerence.”

The Oxford Internet dictionary defines limerence as “the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.” Although some confuse chemistry and limerence, they are different psychological and biochemical processes. Chemistry is where opposite attraction begins, and limerence is where it blows up into a fireworks display.

In the beginning of a relationship, the love-struck, or limerent, couple is compelled by extreme emotional, physical, and sexual urges to merge into a romantic union, which they believe will make them feel whole and complete. Although sexual attraction plays a key role in the limerence experience, by itself it does not account for the burning emotional and relational desires experienced in limerence. Sex, how- ever, almost always “seals the deal” and exponentiates the hypnotic-like experience of limerence.

When the codependent and the pathological narcissist first meet, their shared limerence creates off-the-charts infatuation that ultimately resembles Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When apart, neither can stop thinking about the other, nor do they feel much like eating or sleeping. Each partner is obsessed with the other and is unable to control their nonstop thoughts about the new relationship. The couple simultaneously experiences powerful body sensations that may make them feel like they are floating on air. The feeling of perfection created when they are together quickly brings them into a close and enmeshed romantic relationship.

The drug-like feelings responsible for limerence are primarily caused by the neurotransmitter dopamine. When a person experiences the “high” of new love or intense attraction, neurons are activated in the reward system of the brain, which releases a flood of dopamine. At the same time, the hormone norepinephrine is released causing an increase in blood pressure, sweaty palms, and a pounding-heart. Simultaneously,  levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are lowered or inhibited, stimulating obsessive and compulsive behaviors and thought processes.

It is part of human nature to experience tremendously powerful personal, emotional, and physical sensations in the beginning of a romantic relationship— especially if there is strong physical attraction. With highly compatible relationships, each person initially feels involuntary surges of deep and overwhelming personal, emotional, and sexual excitement. This intense romantic attraction, or limerence, creates overpowering and obsessive cravings to seek the intensely stimulating company of their new love.

According to Dorothy Tennov (1979), “Limerence . . . can be experienced as intense joy or as extreme despair, depending on whether the feelings are reciprocated. Basically, it is the state of being completely carried away by unreasoned passion or love, even to the point of addictive-type behavior.” Simply defined, limerence is an overwhelming,  obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated.

Symptoms of Limerence (Tennov, 1979)Intrusive thinking about the limerent object (LO)

  • Acute longing for the reciprocation of attention and affection
  • Fluctuating mood based on the LO’s actions
  • Experiencing this feeling only with one person at a time
  • All-consuming obsession that the LO will relieve the pain
  • Preoccupation (fear) with rejection
  • Incapacitating and uncomfortable shyness in the beginning of the relationship
  • Intensifying limerence through adversity
  • Aching “heart” (in the chest) when there are doubts
  • Buoyancy (“walking on air”) with reciprocation
  • Intensely obsessing and demotivating one from other responsibilities (friends, family, work)
  • Emphasizing positive attributes of the LO, while ignoring the negative

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Hypnotic Love: Chemistry and Limerence

Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC

Ross Rosenberg is a psychotherapist, international speaker, author, professional trainer, and codependency (renamed to Self-Love Deficit Disorder™), narcissism, trauma and sex addiction expert.  He owns Clinical Care Consultants, a Chicago suburb counseling center and The Self-Love Recovery Institute. His trainings, which feature his original work, have been presented in 30 states and twice in Europe.  

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APA Reference
Rosenberg, R. (2018). Hypnotic Love: Chemistry and Limerence. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2018
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