The news that South Carolina governor Mark Sanford described his mistress Maria Belen Chapur as his soul mate[i] had not yet grown cold when another “married man in the wrong situation” story hit the airwaves. Former Tennessee Titan’s quarterback Steve McNair was murdered and his body found alongside that of the woman who expected him to divorce his wife and marry her, Sahel Kazemi.[ii]

No, this isn’t an attack on either of those men or their recent tragedies. My heart breaks for their families, particularly their children, as well as for their wives and the men themselves. Instead, if you will think with me for a few moments, perhaps we can get a clearer picture as to why good people – both Sanford and McNair claim Christianity – make very destructive decisions. Also, maybe we can put to rest the tired clichés surrounding the concept of finding a soul mate.

Every month I spend three intense days with a new group of married couples in crisis. Though certainly not true of all that attend, many come to my workshop with stories that parallel those of Sanford and McNair except theirs hasn’t been broadcast on national television. (Well, actually, some have.) Not just men, mind you, but women as well who have violated their marriage vows through strong emotional (and usually sexual) connection with another.

For more than twenty years I’ve listened to their stories, hundreds upon hundreds, and learned the commonality that runs through them. Yes, there are always “unique” circumstances. And, yes, those in these situations believe that no one else has experienced what they are experiencing nor understands what they are feeling. However, the foundations are so similar and the path so worn that to their astonishment I accurately and vividly describe for them their experience, emotions, and expectations of what comes next. The typical stunned response is something like, “You just spoke my heart!” or “You told my story!” or “How did you know?”

Nope, I’m not a magician. (I believe in miracles rather than magic.)

Uh-uh, it’s not a word of knowledge or divine revelation, though if God decided to do that with every couple I met it would certainly make my work easier.

It's Limerence.

Limerence was coined by Dorothy Tennov, PhD, in 1977. A great deal of research into it has been done by Helen Fisher, PhD, and her colleagues. I’ve witnessed it up close and personal through years of work with thousands of couples. As I describe it, you will realize that you’ve seen it too – maybe even experienced it. (Don’t worry if you never have; not everyone does.)

Limerence is being madly and overwhelmingly in love to the point of obsession. While it incorporates some dimensions of the agape (Ephesians 5:28) and phileo (Titus 2:4) forms of love that Christians are familiar with from Scripture, it also has several shovelfuls of eros mixed in. One in the throes of limerence thinks constantly about the limerence object (LO, the designation used to identify the one the limerent is madly in love with). The limerent feels strong passion and tremendous pleasure and happiness, even euphoria, associated with the LO. In the eyes of the limerent, the LO rises above normal humanity and is viewed as nearly flawless. I could spend pages describing it, but this gives the idea. (See chapter four of my book Your LovePath for more.)