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Is Attraction Outside of Marriage Healthy?

The grass is always greener

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A few nights ago, as I was making dinner, I joked to Michael that my middle school crush had followed me on Instagram that day and I’d finally achieved my twelve-year-old dream of getting him to notice me.

“Ooooh, are you guys gonna get married now?” he teased.

“Probably,” I joked back. “Sucks for you, though.”

This exchange reminded me of a conversation we had here on APW a few weeks back, about the nature of crushes in relationships and marriage. A commenter asked:

Would love some sane advice on being attracted to a friend when you’re married… What’s normal, what’s not, where are the boundaries, and how to squash those feelings? I have a ton of guilt and am afraid of being judged if I talk about it to IRL friends.

For Michael and me, it’s always been assumed that crushes would be a natural part of our marriage. We started dating in high school, where the boundaries of boy-girl friendships were a little blurrier than they are in adulthood. And the next five years were spent managing a long-distance relationship. Suffice to say, it always seemed like a reach to assume we’d never develop an attraction to other people, when other people were the only people we ever saw. (Plus, I’ve been crushing on boys since I could form coherent thoughts. I’m not sure I could just turn that part of my chemistry off. And I think Michael has always known and accepted that.)

But we do have boundaries. While not explicitly stated, our unwritten relationship rule is just that we keep our crushes firmly rooted in the realm of fantasy. (AKA it’s fine to be attracted to other people, but it’s not fine to make out with other people. At the very least, not without talking about it first.) While we’ve yet to cross these boundaries with each other, that doesn’t mean we haven’t toed the line in more ambiguous ways before: there have been the occasional work flirtations. Friendships that got a little too close. Or the times when one of us was the objection of someone else’s affection, and that person didn’t respect the boundaries of our marriage. Since we’re good at policing ourselves, these situations have typically fizzled out before they became a thing to be worried about (nothing kills attraction faster than seeing your crush as a fully realized person, warts and all). Or as Meg said in her reply to the commenter above:

My standard reminder to myself in that situation is that it was really hard to find someone who was a great overall life partner for me. So while X person seems really attractive and new, in reality, what are the chances they’re as good a fit for me in a whole life way? (Like .05 percent, probably.) That gets me over the insanity of whatever the chemicals in my brain are saying, and then I can just enjoy a good crush, or maybe a little bit of flirting, both of which are no big deal in my relationship. I also definitely don’t cut myself off from spending time with people I happen to be attracted to, but I’ve never had a willpower problem, so I tend not to worry.

We very clearly set boundaries in our relationship early on that attraction is NORMAL, because hi, it’s not like you’re going to turn that off for your whole life. So there is no reason to feel guilty about them, or even lie about them to your partner (not that you have to disclose either). Removing the guilt piece of the equation and being totally honest with myself about the attraction actually makes it far easier for me to behave a way that I find sane.

In some ways, the harmless crushes and innocent flirting are actually good for our relationship. Because for Michael and me, even if we are attracted to someone outside of our marriage, it isn’t because we’re looking for something our relationship can’t provide. More often than not, if I find myself attracted to someone else, it’s because they share common characteristics with Michael (and vice versa). In those cases, it’s usually a short step to turn that attraction inward toward our marriage, which is the delicate way of saying it reinforces our desire to have sex with each other, instead of other people. Plus, there’s something kind of provocative about knowing that we each could be going after other people, but that we choose to come home to each other. And what’s the harm in that?

what do you think? Is attraction outside of marriage normal? Is it healthy? How do you establish boundaries with your partner so you don’t cross the line? And I’d love to hear from the Monogamish folks about how you navigate these waters. 

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