By Danielle Braff Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A study in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that 70 percent of women who are married or who are in relationships have crushes. And those are the women who admitted it.
You've been in a relationship for years. Maybe you're even married. And out of nowhere, you're crushing on your co-worker, your friend or even your neighbor. The shock. The horror.
Actually, don't stress at all. Just because you're not a teenager anymore doesn't mean you're not entitled to a crush or three. Crushes are totally normal.
"People are appealing, and attraction is never limited to the person we are with," said Sherrie Campbell, Los Angeles-based psychologist and author of "But It's Your Family." But, she added, "we can all look at the menu and not order: It is only bad if we are unhappy in our relationship and we veer from it with a crush and lose our integrity."
Caroline Wilkerson, 36, an acupuncturist who lives in River Forest, said she's always had crushes, with one in particular that affected her strongly during her marriage. He was a co-worker, and they joked around, chatted and connected on many levels. But, Wilkerson knew that she needed to keep this on crush level.
"What you feed grows," she said.
So she told her husband about her workplace crush, they talked about it, and her feelings toward her co-worker dissipated.
"What you do about it is what's important," Wilkerson said. "If you continue to try to be around that person and to feed your fantasies, it has way more potential to become a real thing. But especially if the feeling is obviously mutual, there's nothing wrong with harmless flirting here and there as long as you're mature about it and you address it."
Even science says so.
A study in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that 70 percent of women who are married or who are in relationships have crushes. And those are the women who admitted it. The researchers said that this is fine and normal. After all, how can you turn off your attraction meter to everyone just because you commit to one person?
Women aren't the only gender that is crushing.
A study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that men are visually stimulated by faces they've never seen before, and are aroused by the idea of someone new. See that woman again, and they're not as attracted to her, the study found.
There are a few factors at play.
People get involved in relationships for a variety of reasons, including geographical proximity, stability, emotional connection and other factors beyond strong attraction, said David Bennett, counselor, author and relationship expert in Ohio.
A crush, however, is a strong attraction to someone.
"So just because you have a strong crush on someone doesn't mean you would choose to be with that person," Bennett said. "It also means that you could be content in a relationship with someone who isn't your crush."
Sometimes, however, a crush isn't healthy.
If it's so intense that it disrupts your relationship, then it's obviously a problem. But there are also more subtle signs.
These include constantly comparing your current partner with your crush or being on the edge of cheating, such as constantly flirting or emotionally cheating, Bennett said.
Though attraction to another person is natural and somewhat uncontrollable, what you do about it is totally within your control, said Holly LaBarbera, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California.
If you do have a crush, she suggests letting your partner know. It could be fun and even lead to role playing or fantasy sex, LaBarbera said.
Sharing that information can also build trust and intimacy, as can sharing any vulnerable thought or feeling.
Alternatively, keeping the crush a secret is just as problematic as any secret.
"For one thing, it can cause you to feel shame about it, when the feelings are mostly out of your control," LaBarbera said. "For another, secrets become titillating and may make you more likely to think more about your crush and possibly even take action you'll regret."
If telling your partner about your crush isn't an option, LaBarbera suggests talking about it with a trusted friend. This serves the same purpose of normalizing it and helping you to not act on your feelings, she said.
In the future, it's advisable to recognize the value of the relationship you're in, said Christie Tcharkhoutian, senior matchmaker with Three Day Rule. Crushes often come with a "grass is greener" mentality, and you may begin thinking that because that other person is representing something you feel is lacking in your current relationship, he or she seems to be a better choice.
"As we see in social media usage, someone else's highlight reel always seems better than our real life," Tcharkhoutian said. "The reality is, if you were to pursue your crush outside of your relationship, they would have flaws up close, as well."
Turns out, nobody's perfect. Not even your crush.