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In a Long Term Relationship, But Have Feelings for Someone Else: What to Do

Brenda Gil, Seattle Therapist

Dec 22, 2021

Finding others attractive is inevitable regardless of your relationship status. Initial feelings of physical or emotional attraction to someone can be sudden and outside of your control. However, folks have choice of whether they pursue the other person. There is also choice to acknowledge the emotions, increase awareness of why the emotion or attractiveness is there, and share this experience with others to normalize and get support with combatting relationship or personal issues that could contribute to this vulnerability. Ultimately, you are in control of what happens next.

Explore your feelings further

If you are feeling attracted to someone other than your current partner, be curious about why the feelings exist before taking a step forward. The development of these feelings may be spontaneous which can make some folks feel excited, shameful, or confused. It’s important to normalize and acknowledge this potentially awkward experience to decrease the amount of distress these feelings cause so you can better explore your underlying needs and motivations with curiosity. Disregarding, suppressing, or directing a negative attitude towards these feelings can exacerbate them. This can contribute to increased shame, self-sabotage, or make you more susceptible to damaging the current relationship in other ways if you are not aware.

If you are struggling with accepting that the feelings are there, it may be helpful to explore the feelings about your feelings first. Acceptance does not mean you need to like the situation or give up, rather it can help you see the reality and give you space to focus on what you can control rather than reacting in an unhelpful way. Inquire why you may feel the need to hide the feelings, feel shame about them, feel proud about them, why they may or may not be appropriate to share with your current boyfriend or partner, or why you may not feel anything towards them. This can help you gain context for how the emotions could benefit or harm you.

Additional questions to consider as you explore your emotions, needs, and motivations may include:

  1. What exactly are you attracted to?
  2. What does the content of your thoughts about this person tend to focus on?
  3. How would you benefit by pursuing your attraction to this person?
  4. What might this suggest you value or need more of?
  5. Can this need be met independently or by your current partner?
  6. Consider who you feel is your go-to person when things are stressful or exciting. Who is your confidant? Your partner or your crush? Why?

Figure out if you’re experiencing physical attraction or something deeper

The good news is we can find people attractive for their appearance, personality, or their company while in long-term relationships. An innocent crush may consist of respect, fondness, or admiration towards these qualities of a person without developing romantic feelings or fantasizing about physical affection or a relationship with this person. Sometimes, we develop feelings towards folks that might remind us of our partner’s qualities or what you lack or would like to work on. Other people can also become more desirable when they are unavailable and in a relationship of their own, consider if this could be a contributing factor.

In some cases, healthy crushes can help people in committed relationships continue to feel attractive or desired when they are past the honeymoon stage of their relationship. Additionally, developing feelings for someone else may not represent a desire to leave the existing relationship and our ability to develop crushes may be independent of your happiness in a relationship and just part of being human. However, people that you have previously been involved with warrant an extra level of caution. Rather than a crush, you have history with them. Don’t forget there is likely a reason why you are no longer with them.

The bad news is that sometimes deeper feelings towards the other person could indicate underlying issues. It’s important to process what these deeper feelings are interested in. Are you looking for more emotional intimacy, a distraction from the rough patch in the relationship, or do you long for some excitement? Generally, people may seek someone else when they are not satisfied in their current relationship. This does not mean their partner is to blame, as it is a shared effort to improve communication, intimacy, and keep the relationship fun and exciting. Individual issues can also be present that makes it difficult to maintain intimacy or commitment with their primary partner. In other cases, interest in other people can be a sign of no longer having romantic feelings for their partner. Consider if you already felt like you were not a good match with your existing partner before the crush developed. Individual or relationship therapy may be a good option if you think you may be struggling with some of these issues.

What to do when you’re just attracted to a particular person

As human beings, we can appreciate objective attractiveness. This is the piece that can feel out of your control. You can encounter it as you engage in pop culture, walk down the street, meet new friends, or join a new team at work. We can also find others attractive because they share common values or interests that align with yours especially when your partner does not share these in common with you. Although the initial attraction is unavoidable, what happens after is your choice. Identify if there are boundaries you need to set in order to restrict the level of attraction and contact you have with this person if you believe there is a risk of damaging the commitment to your current relationship.

Additionally, consider the risk you could be taking if you made a move. Remember that these feelings may not equate to the other person being your new soulmate. Avoid glamorizing them by identifying what exactly it is you like about them, considering the areas where you may not be as compatible, and reducing the time spent fantasizing about them by engaging in activities that are enjoyable and support your self-esteem or strengthen your relationship with your current partner. Think about what a friendship with them would look like and the idea that you can have shared values or interests without needing to date or have a relationship with this person.

In some cases, the crush may not reciprocate despite you ending or jeopardizing the current relationship. Pressuring your crush to reciprocate by confessing your feelings to them may also lead to collateral damage or awkwardness if things don’t pan out. Consider your current partner too. How might they view this crush and what would it be like if you were in their shoes? Be aware of what situations may be risky if you are struggling to manage your attraction to them and avoid situations in which alcohol or other substances can make it harder to maintain boundaries. Finally, explore how else you can distance yourself, reduce regular contact, or what topics of conversation to avoid to move on from this crush.

Don’t let attraction turn into an emotional affair

Feelings for another can be a warning sign of trouble in your existing relationship. Deficits in your relationship can make someone seem more attractive than they really are. People sometimes report feeling that something is missing in their relationship. They may feel neglected, restricted, misunderstood, disconnected, or not desirable. There can be many reasons for these feelings including changes as a result of moving in together, aging, job changes, children, trust injuries, lack of sexual intimacy, or personal difficulties.

Its normal for long-term relationships to ebb and flow causing folks to feel more or less connected at times especially when new stressors arise. Improving communication skills to combat negative assumptions and advocate for your needs in the relationship can help you reconnect and repair without needing a third person to bring some stability. Emotional affairs often originate when communication or trust has declined to a point where the person is no longer feeling safe or supported to go to their partner as their primary confidant. This may be due to the partner’s actions or personal anxiety that create barriers to being able to effectively communicate about their concerns and unmet needs.

If there are problems that impair emotional intimacy in your relationship, pursuing a crush into an emotional affair is not likely to repair this. Consider the risk of following the crush, it may be that the person meets your current needs, but keeping and communicating with your current partner may be safer or more stable long-term that taking a risk with someone new. When you admit emotions exist and choose not to act on them, the strength of the affection will likely reduce as crushes typically do not last for very long when they are not cultivated. Avoid regular contact and spending long periods of time with crushes if you are worried about the risk of emotional infidelity. If you are in a long distance relationship, it may be helpful to keep busy by engaging in your hobbies and investing in yourself to minimize time spent thinking about the crush and reduce personal factors like loneliness that can make a crush seem more enticing.

Work on the committed relationship

If you find that your interest in a crush is due to what’s missing in your current relationship rather than having genuine affection for the person, it may be helpful to speak with a relationship expert or dating coach to help you with talking to your partner about your needs or navigating your rocky patch. You may also need to decide if your partner should know about the crush and how it can be exacerbated by problems in the relationship if feeling not appreciated or taken for granted. When talking to your partner about these matters, talk when you are not experiencing the 5 H.A.L.T.S. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Substance Use) to reduce the likelihood of the conversation escalating.

It can be helpful to increase opportunities to spend time with your partner. This can show that you are both still a priority to each other, give you opportunities to refresh the relationship through exciting new experiences, and make more time to listen to each others needs or expectations as the relationship goes through changes. Talk to a relationship therapist for support with improving communication and consideration for each other if you find that your partner is struggling to empathize or validate your needs and emotions, which often leads folks to feeling lonely despite being in a long-term relationship.

In some cases, therapy can also help with individual issues that make folks susceptible to crushes or difficulty maintaining long-term partnerships. These issues can include low tolerance for intimacy, inability to express needs, maintaining realistic expectations, and combatting unhealthy assumptions. Common assumptions in situations like these may include beliefs that they are a burden to their partner, which leads to them restricting what they share with them creating distance and further escalating feelings of loneliness and lack of support. It’s important to explore the origin of these assumptions and identify if they are incongruent to the reality experienced by your partner.

Finally, it can be challenging if our partner does not meet all of our needs due to their personal differences. However, accepting these differences can help one better focus on the partner’s positive qualities and the value of the relationship. Acceptance can also change your view of your crush to respect and admiration rather than desire.

Can you be in a relationship and still love someone else?

In short, yes. It’s likely true that we love a family member or friend while still being able to love our partner at the same time. However, it may be helpful to consider the different types of love and whether monogamy is right for you. The most important factor to consider is how you act on the love you experience towards someone else and whether this violates the expectations for commitment set in your primary partnership. Additional communication may be needed if the person you love is an ex-partner as retroactive jealousy may exist or risk for infidelity can increase in some cases. Working with a therapist on these issues can help you start moving in the right direction.

Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love explains that there are three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. These components interact to create 7 different types of love including friendship, infatuation, companionate, and consummate love. These types of love vary from person to person and over the course of your relationships with them. Thus, crushes can evolve from initial infatuation to friendship, companionate, or no love at all. When long-term partnerships struggle they may be lacking in any of the 3 components of love, while a partnership with consummate love is most likely to represent an ideal relationship.

Finally, some folks decide to engage in consensual non-monogamy to support with meeting emotional or physical needs that a single or primary partner may not or no longer be able to meet. These decisions can be influenced by the type of love that exists in each relationship. For example, you may find that, after some time with your original partner, love has transformed into companionate love that lacks passion and mutually agree to keep your relationship while dating others to meet your need for passion through romantic love or infatuation. Honest communication and working with a relationship therapist can help with discerning whether this is an option for both partners.

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