When you got married you only had eyes for each other. There was no room for romantic thoughts of other people. But as time goes on and that new relationship feeling mellows, you have started noticing other attractive people around you. Or maybe you have just made a close and unexpected connection with someone. Whatever the case, you now find yourself married but constantly thinking of someone else. Sound familiar?
Being married doesn’t mean that you are blind. Attractive people are everywhere and recognizing that doesn’t – or shouldn’t – threaten your relationship. Developing feelings for someone else, breaking your marriage vows, or betraying your partner, however, will. So what does it mean, and what should you do, if you find yourself saying, “I’m married but constantly thinking about someone else?”
What Thinking About Someone Else Means When You’re Married
No, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. And no, it doesn’t mean your marriage is over or that you have fallen out of love with your spouse. People in healthy and happy relationships can develop “crushes” on other people from time to time. Believe it or not, these types of feelings can be completely normal and may not mean anything at all regarding the health of your marriage. But a “crush” is very different than falling in love with someone outside your marriage.
The differences between those normal reactionary feelings we may have toward people outside the marriage, and feelings for someone else that are toxic and that can kill your relationship are two things.
- The extent of the feelings.
- What you do about them.
Realizing that the girl at the coffee shop is cute, interesting, and amusing is one thing. We all meet attractive, intriguing people over the course of our relationship. These mild crush-type feelings should be more appreciation for another person and generally not a threat to the marriage.
Going out of your way to see and spend time with her, and choosing her company over that of your wife is entirely different. Leaning into that crush-type feeling rather than setting boundaries, and allowing the intrigue and appreciation you may feel to grow beyond just that, is a problem.
The first scenario doesn’t mean much, just that you’re human and reacting normally to another person. The second, however, is an indication that there are problems in your relationship at home, and should be red flag telling you that it’s time to focus on your marriage.
Dr. Kurt works with couples routinely who are dealing with infidelity. Very often these affairs began with what seem like innocent interactions. His advice on this problem is:
It's easy not to realize how powerful our thoughts actually are, especially when it comes to cheating. Typically cheating is thought of as an action - 'I slept with my co-worker' or 'We were sexting each other.' Yet all actions begin with a thought. So being aware of our thoughts and actively managing them is a crucial element in controlling our behavior. I've treated men who've turned a friendly exchange at the coffee shop into an affair - and some of them have repeatedly done it. Understanding the motivations behind our thoughts and behavior is also very important. A word of caution -- some of us trip ourselves up by over-focusing on certain words and their meaning. If you don't believe the word 'constantly' accurately describes the frequency of your thinking about someone else be careful not to dismiss the warning that comes with this topic. You don't have to be thinking about someone else 'constantly' for it to still be a problem for you and your marriage.
If you are constantly thinking of someone else, coveting their company, or feeling like you may be falling in love with someone other than your spouse, it’s time to evaluate things. Generally when these more extreme types of feelings occur it’s because there are holes in your current relationship. In fact, what you may be feeling toward someone else isn’t very likely to be real (no matter how real it feels), but rather a reaction to the desire to fulfill needs that aren’t currently being met. Acting on these feelings by cheating on your spouse, emotionally or sexually, will not make things better - it will make them decidedly worse.
How to Deal With It When You’re Thinking About Someone Else
While falling in love with someone else is a big problem, even little, relatively normal crushes can be distracting and potentially damaging if they aren’t handled the right way. Although you may not be on the verge of an all out affair, your spouse may feel bothered or threatened by the idea that you’re looking at other people and thinking about them at all. So how do you prevent yourself from allowing thoughts of other people from disrupting your marriage?
First you need to recognize that being attracted to members of opposite sex is normal and we all go through it. Over the course of your relationship both you and your spouse will find other people attractive and interesting. So developing a plan for how to handle those feelings is crucial for each of you. Start with asking yourself a few questions.
- Why am I attracted to this person? Chances are it’s for pretty superficial reasons. They are friendly, they show interest in you, they look put together and happy - these things could all be part of it. Keep in mind that you are likely seeing them at their best. Your spouse is someone you see all sides of – good and bad. So if you are feeling tempted to step outside your marriage, and constantly thinking a lot about someone else, remember, you are only seeing one side of them – the best one. Reality is never the same as the fantasy.
- Are there problems in your marriage? If passing appreciation has turned into something more, it’s time to think about why. One reason people focus and fantasize about someone else is because they are avoiding difficulties at home. Every marriage has problems at different times. There is no utopia. Even with the person that you are now constantly thinking about. The truth is that if you were to leave your spouse and start a new relationship there would be problems there too. So if you are married and thinking constantly about someone else, stop and take a look at your current relationship. It’s very likely that the time and effort working on your marriage will bring far more happiness and satisfaction than fantasizing about other people.
- What do you really want? Yes, that hot bartender is fun to look at – but is that what you really want? Or are you really just missing the excitement and romance that was present at the initial stages of your marriage? Romance in marriage has a way of getting pushed to the side over time. Keeping the excitement alive and appreciating each other is an important part of keeping a marriage healthy.
After a little self-evaluation you are likely to realize that there are areas in your relationship that need your attention, and that focusing on someone outside your marriage won’t fix things.
With this in mind you can make a plan for improving the health of your marriage. This plan should include personal boundaries when it comes to interacting with other people you may find tempting. This should ensure you avoid the following pitfalls.
- Time alone with someone tempting. Don’t set yourself up for failure by placing yourself in questionable situations. There is no reason you need to have coffee, or otherwise hangout with someone that could create problems for you.
- Avoid dangerous technology. Today there are too many seemingly innocent ways to connect with someone using technology. But using Instagram to interact, Facebook to stay in touch, or even just texting can easily allow you to cross lines that are already blurry. Technology these days allows you to create a connection with others, flirt, or become emotionally involved with others in ways that don’t FEEL like cheating. The truth is that these interactions are all forms of micro-cheating and can lead to big problems.
- Lying to yourself. If you have an interest in someone else - acknowledge it. Continuing to tell yourself it doesn’t mean anything and that you can handle it seems like it works – until it doesn’t. It’s like walking on the edge of a cliff thinking that there’s no way you can fall – and then you do. Be smart from the beginning. Call a cliff a cliff and stay away from it.
There’s no avoiding feeling occasionally attracted to other people. And there’s no shame in it. This goes for your spouse too. But you are the one in charge of your actions, not fate, not love, and not any other indefinable force romanticized in poems, songs or books. So if you find yourself married but constantly thinking about someone else, it’s ultimately up to you to determine how you handle those thoughts. If they have become so overwhelming that you recognize a threat to your marriage, it may be time to consider getting some help in figuring out how to control your thoughts as well as make your marriage stronger.
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