Are you shocked to find out that your partner is attracted to other people? Really, it should be no surprise – since you likely check other people out as well. It’s totally normal to be aware of others who catch your eye and even to admire the way they look or behave.
However, this reality isn’t always easy for married couples to accept. A study conducted by researchers at Indiana University reveals that 70 percent of women in relationships admit to having serious attractions to other men. Note that these were full-on crushes, where the women flirted, daydreamed and engaged in other amorous behaviors.
WHAT THE RESEARCH REVEALS
In the study, women who had been in a relationship for at least 3 years answered open-ended questions about their crushes. Most of the subjects were married.
After asking the women dozens of questions and evaluating their answers, researchers concluded that most participants had feelings for other people. They concluded that crushes were a normal part of married life, generally posing little threat to the relationship.
Still, the fact that crushes happen may be difficult to accept – since we want to believe that outside attractions will end when we exchange vows.
“Crushes can continue throughout your lifespan,” explains one of the study authors. “You don’t just stop having them because you’re in a relationship. It’s natural, when you’re around someone a lot, to develop feelings.”
While researchers say this phenomenon hasn’t yet been studied in men, let’s be honest: It’s completely logical that the same goes for both sexes.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS A SIGN OF TROUBLE
Many women described their crushes as casual and purely physical. “Oh my, he was beautiful,” says one respondent. “It’s just a physical reaction when I’m near him,” says another.
About 25 percent of the crushes were on a coworker. Exes and close friends were also common culprits.
The good news: the women’s attraction had absolutely nothing to do with her spouse or her feelings about her marriage. Attraction to other people seems to be inevitable, regardless of whether your marriage is struggling or rock-solid.
Researchers found that crushes did not always lead to cheating. Many respondents went out of their way to specify that they would never act on their feelings. Of all the women who confessed to having crushes on other guys, only 5 percent admitted to infidelity.
The total percentage of people who cheat is actually much higher, around 20 percent for both men and women, according to other research from Indiana University.
Surprisingly, many women said their feelings for other men actually improved their relationships.
“They might feel more aroused throughout the day, then go home and transfer that desire to their partner,” the study leader said.
If it’s hard to accept that a partner may have sexual feelings for someone else, you should realize that the more s/he fantasizes, the greater the desire. A faithful partner who craves sex is good news for the other partner!
Other respondents said that thinking about being with another man reminded them of why they were with their partner.
HEALTHY WAYS MARRIED COUPLES CAN DEAL WITH A CRUSH
If it’s normal to have crushes on other people, the goal is to figure out how to manage your feelings.
There’s no one right way to do that, of course. Some couples communicate openly about their crushes, but if that’s going to cause hard feelings in your case, you may decide to keep these feelings private.
If you’re not sure what to do, consider taking a cue from the women in the Indiana University study, who used one or more strategies according to what they felt would work best for them.
TALK ABOUT IT. Telling your partner about your crush may make it less of a threat.
OR DEAL WITH IT PRIVATELY. You may feel it’s pointless to discuss a meaningless crush, especially if you are sure nothing will ever come of it.
BURY IT. Having the opportunity to cheat is a key predictor of actual cheating. If you have ample opportunity for things to go wrong, you may want to actively put the crush out of your mind and take care not to spend time alone with him or her, especially when alcohol or drugs could be involved.
ENJOY IT IN A SAFE WAY. Keeping your crush all in your head is what works for many people. Some women wrote that they fantasized during masturbation or sex, and that was enough to satisfy their desires.
REMEMBER – IT’S PROBABLY HARMLESS. The researchers did notice a trend in the few relationships that were negatively affected by crushes. These couples tended to demonize attraction to other people. This reinforces the concept that fear can often create the situation that you most want to avoid. And it makes a strong case for not placing undue attention on the occasional crush. Instead, you can acknowledge the reality and the risks while remaining committed to the relationship you have.
KEEPING YOUR MARRIAGE STRONG AND HEALTHY
Are you struggling to accept the risks of extramarital crush – or, worse yet, trying to overcome the damage done by an affair?
Don’t despair. There are many steps you can take to assure that your marriage does not fall apart.
As a professional couples therapist with decades of experience, Janae Munday, LCSW, has helped hundreds of Phoenix-area couples build stronger, more caring relationships. To schedule a confidential appointment, contact Janae now.