How to get over intense crush while in a relationship
October 6, 2014 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I’ve been experiencing intense attraction to a man who is not my spouse over the last months and not sure how to deal. This started out as your standard, cute little crush but has become obsessive and all the tools I had to my disposal to curb this do not work.

So first of all: I have been in a very stable + happy relationship for 10+ years and have had a few crushes here and there. Those were easy to deal with and I shrugged them off. Never anything as intense as this, especially the sexual/physical aspect. I cannot remember attraction like this even from teenage years. I feel like I’m in new territory, helpless, and can’t deal with this at all.

I guess I’m lucky in the sense that nothing untoward, aside from a few maybe overtly flirty messages, has happened between me and this man. I don’t think he’s actually interested into going any further (not sure, though), and our contact is limited (think neighbors who cross paths once a week or so). So I don’t think anything is going to happen. But this feels entirely out of control. I know that if he *were* interested, and would show up on my doorstep, there’s absolutely no way I could say no. Still, I love + like my husband and am happy in my marriage and would not want to do anything to risk it, especially since we have a small child. I do not even feel a deep emotional connection to the other guy, who is a good 20 years older and doesn’t really have anything in common with me. It’s purely physical (although he has been a good, helpful friend to me in the past year).

I assume that this is probably rooted somehow in that our marriage has become almost sexless since we had a kid 3 years ago. We were always kind of undersexed as a couple, which was OK with both of us (we talked about it openly). But somehow with this crush, my libido has surged and I’m ridiculously turned on all the time. It feels almost like a physical illness. Having sex with my husband, while nice, does not do anything, at all - I still crave the other guy. Same with masturbation.

To make matters more complicated, I’m emotionally devastated by the fact that my crush did/does not reciprocate, and I have nobody I can talk to about this - obviously even my best friends would tell me, “are you crazy, how can you even think about starting a thing with another guy? You should be happy he didn’t want you.” I know that, but I'm still so upset about it. If I were single and lovesick, I think I could somehow get it out of my system and feel legitimately sorry for myself and kind of bounce back, but I feel like I’m stuck. I brought this on myself, I kind of deserve feeling bad for it. It's so self-destructive but I see no way out of it.

Sorry this is so long. Have you been through this? What helped? I have spent the better part of the last year thinking/fantasizing about the other guy and I’m so exhausted. Hope me. Looking into therapy options, as well, but I don’t know if I can open up to anyone about the depth of this obsession and how it has taken over my life.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely yes to therapy. ASAP. And don't settle for a just-OK therapist, look until you find someone who gets how much this is distressing you.

Your state, it may be said, is what writing poetry is for. Give it a try.
posted by xaryts at 4:10 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe you're using this crush as a distraction. It's become a bad habit that you're continuously feeding.

I've had crushes when my kids were smaller. I think I was bored, perhaps overwhelmed, and became addicted to the fantasy. I didn't know how to nurture or spice up my marriage, or I wasn't willing to because I was distracted. I was insecure and I wanted my crush to desire me. I wanted to be desired by men in general. I am so thankful I never acted on a crush. My crushes never knew I was crushing.

My advice would be to start paying attention to your husband big time. Think about him and what you can do for him that will improve your relationship. . Right now, you're self-absorbed and can't see outside of this crush. I'm not a mental health professional but I think repeated, irrational crushes can be neurotic. It's a way to distract yourself from what is present and real.

Nurture the relationship that you have. Remember that you are a role-model for your child. Children who grow up in loving, secure, adult relationships grow up to have secure adult relationships. I'm not saying you don't have a nice marriage, but you are using a lot of energy thinking of your crush. Would you want your child to obsess over someone for a full year who was unattainable, or be self-destructive, or live in fantasy land? Make some popcorn, go sit with your husband and child and watch a movie. Be present in your family and marriage.
posted by Fairchild at 4:13 PM on October 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

Boy do I hear ya! Although the circumstances are different, I've experienced the same emotions, I think. For a few months I developed a pretty obsessive crush on the personal trainer I hired- quite a guy: high IQ, high EQ, nurturing, and sweet Jesus, what an ass... anyhoo, he is taken by a woman of apparently similar calibre, which I'm not. Here are a few things I did:
- Once I stopped going to his gym (distance is a must) I *did* allow myself to feel what I was feeling for another month- making myself acknowledge what it was (all me, and my busload of issues.)
- Listened to the appropriate songs obsessively, instead. Sure, I allowed the occasional Billie Holliday to creep in, but "It's All In My Mind" by Love 'n' Rockets and "6 Underground" by the Sneaker Pimps (" me down, safe and sound...") were the most helpful. There are others; that might be a good mefi thread...
- Strong recommendation against masturbating with him in mind; Unless your husband is an adequate substitute- and IIRC, that's a no- it can leave you just feeling emptier and more desperate to refill that void.
- I tried to keep in mind what my beloved podcaster Duncan Trussell suggested: A yearning of that degree can be indicative of a yearning for connection in general- even to the big thing that (I want to believe) we're all part of. With effort, I kinda steered my focus on me and tried to find ways I could facilitate that connection. It's been a year, I'm still working. It's working. Slowly.
Sorry I'm long-winded. I just hate to think of another decent gal who feels shorted for an imaginary reason (again, IIRC.) That's all I can think of right now. I wish you the best. I recovered, largely, and you deserve the same-
posted by JulesER at 4:21 PM on October 6, 2014 [20 favorites]

I have written about this before but here goes:

1. You get to decide who you want to be. I hope you will choose to be an ethical person. The idea that if he showed up at your door you would not be able to say no is not true. Determine today that you will not do that. It is not the way to respect your marriage.

2. You are learning you are a passionate, sexual person. This is awesome. In my view, the best thing to do with this discovery is date your spouse.

3. Every time you fantasize about the way you would hike/watch movies/go apple picking with Crush Guy, do that with your current partner. Share one of the inner true thoughts you would share with CG with your spouse. Either you will start to feel like this toward him or you'll find out other things. But you will have truly given your marriage a shot at being the great relationship, which is what I personally think marriages deserve.

4. It's okay to want a sex life. Work on that including therapy as a possible tool. Try doing new things together outside of sex, like travel, whatever. It can ignite things. FYI I am in my 40s and my sex drive has been up for a few years from where it was 10 yrs ago.

5. Take up a sport to burn off the crush adrenaline. Watch Spanglish and cry. Listen to pop music. It is really, really ok to feel.

6. If in X months (6? 9?) you still feel this way, maybe you will want to leave your marriage and find the big feelings with someone. At that point I guess you could let Crush Guy know. But in my's not really about this guy, it's about you.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:28 PM on October 6, 2014 [24 favorites]

Are you me? I promise you I could have written every detail of
this post. Seriously though, I have no advice for you, but I'll be checking answers for myself. And if you want someone to talk to, memail me!! the challenge for me is that the crush feels simultaneously so bad and so good. And such rush of emotions after being "turned off" for years....even though my relationship is good.

Anyway, I feel ya! You're not alone. And you're not a bad person. You're alive!
posted by katypickle at 5:19 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've found that understanding the biology of what's going on helps, so I encourage you to read up on limerence. Your crush on this man is acting on your brain like a cocaine addiction, so keep that in mind and don't do anything irrevocable while under its influence. Also, do whatever you can to stop feeding your addiction to him.

I'm very limerence-prone myself and this used to be a big problem for me (and my husband!) until I redirected it toward crushing on fictional characters instead of real people I interact with. Being obsessively in love with Will Graham, Phil Coulson, Tony Stark, John Watson, Ulfric Stormcloak, etc. provides all the same excitement with none of the threat to my marriage.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:48 PM on October 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

I know that if he *were* interested, and would show up on my doorstep, there’s absolutely no way I could say no.

But there actually is. You actually entirely have a choice in the matter. Think it through. There are different ways you could go, but if you love your husband and want to be with your husband, then start exploring how you can repair your relationship. This could be the impetus toward something good.

It's so self-destructive but I see no way out of it.

But there is. You have agency in this situation, on a lot of counts. You can choose whether or not you have an affair with the guy. You can choose whether you decide to work on your marriage and start figuring out what went wrong. You can choose whether or not to leave your husband. Isn't it more empowering to think of what aspects you actually do have control over? It would be different if your husband had had an affair, or was leaving you and you were the one who was a passive agent as everything was playing out, but it's not like that this time.
posted by mermily at 5:55 PM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

I absolutely know what this is like, and I encourage you to re-read Jacqueline's comment above. Then do some googling/research on limerence. I think the folks going on about personal agency and relationship repair don't get this.

The first time I read about limerence, it was a shock and a huge relief. This thing that had felt so overwhelming and isolating had a name and a history and a pattern. Just that realization was a big step toward lessening its power in my life.

Key things to know: (1) this WILL pass, even though it doesn't feel like it, (2) getting distance will help - even avoiding the person completely for a while if possible, (3) this doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you or your relationship. It is A Thing that sometimes happens to people, and you can deal with it and move past it.
posted by jeoc at 7:36 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's what I advise.

First, cut off contact with the neighbor. Friendly wave, but delete him from your phone.

Second, you need to acknowledge and experience all these feelings. If you are feeling crushing feelings, say to yourself "I am feeling crushing feelings for neighbor." Then let that feeling go through, you wash over you, be friends with the feeling. But don't act on it or actively fantasize about it. Just feel it, don't run with it. Notice everything about it, the tight feeling in the chest, the whatever. But don't try and increase that feeling. Then let it go within a few seconds or at most half a minute. It may come back in 5 seconds, 5 minutes or 5 hours. Learn how often it happens and ask yourself how often you are having the crushing feeling.

Slowly, you will find the duration, intensity and frequency will go down if you don't engage the feelings or try and bring them to the front of your mind when bothered by something else (a very common thing). But you'll have to cut this person off.

the same goes for the feelings of being rejected.

sit down with your husband. Tell him your troubles. tell him the marriage is in trouble. tell him you want to go to couples counseling.

Finally, spice it up a bit with your husband. Get a baby sitter for a whole night. You both buy different nice clothes and underwear. Assume a new identity with fake names. Meet in a hotel bar. Pretend you are strangers, maybe flirt a bit with other customers, but then flirt with the different guy your husband is pretending to be. (practice in front of the mirror ahead of time). Then one of you propositions the other and you go up to the hotel room you have and have sex like strangers. Get some novelty in the sexual part of the relationship.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:39 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

one other point. my aunt is a full clinical professor of psychology. She once told me that obsessions are what we do when we don't want to think about something else. Like being trapped. Like living a tough life raising a kid that takes up all your time.

So think hard about what it is you might not want to be thinking about, the impending death of a parent or other loved one, financial troubles, whatever. Whenever you start thinking about the neighbor, think about the thing you're probably avoiding and then let it go.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:43 PM on October 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

You'll probably hate this advice, but I generally find that the easiest way for me to get over a crush - perhaps especially those of the potentially dangerous "omg-I'm-SO-attracted" variety - is to tell my partner. Yup. Confession makes a crush so much less sexy .. And, conversely, can also build intimacy with your partner.

"Honey. I have something on my chest I need to share with you.. Understand that I love you very much and our marriage means the world to me. And that's why I need to talk with you about this insane crush I have .."

You can (and should) still pursue therapy .. But consider making the crush something you and your partner think through together.

As far as wanting sex .. Totally normal. Also normal not to want a sexless marriage. I tend to think the crush is a distraction from this fundamental issue. If you agree, you can even tell your husband the same thing.
posted by Gray Skies at 11:24 PM on October 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

By fretting over these feelings, trying to suppress them, using "all the tools at your disposal" to "curb" this crush, you are actually causing yourself to focus on them even more. Far better to accept that this is something your hormones and your brain happen to be doing at the moment. It's not a catastrophe, & it doesn't make you a bad person. Even sleeping with your neighbour would probably not mean you were a bad person. It would, however, cause a great deal of harm, & that's what you should try to avoid.

Think about why this crush has become so central in your life. What need is it fulfilling? Only you can answer for sure, but if I had to guess, I would say you're a bit bored; you're not getting enough attention from your husband (in general, not just sexually); and you're either not getting enough sex, or not finding the sex you do get to be satisfying.

That is what you should be discussing with your husband. Don't tell him about your feelings for your neighbour unless you are prepared for either or both of the following scenarios:

1. His being deeply hurt in a way you can never repair;
2. His confessing that he's been lusting after someone else all this time, too.

Good luck.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:55 AM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

This really depends on what kind of relationship you have, but I would also tell my partner. Mostly because he would understand it's a crush and it would not be a huge deal in our relationship, so YMMV.

The rationale behind this is that I think sometimes the thrill of it being a secret and a new shiny thing is a huge factor in a crush's power and telling my husband would take that whole thing out of the equation. Accountability does wonders and once you start to be accountable it's easier to continue. You don't need to give him details. You can just say you have a crush and you feel it's something he should know, and tell him it might be related to the changes in your intimate life.

The same way accountability kind of builds upon itself, once you start doing things covertly (the messages!), it is really easy to continue that path, too. Especially with the way you say they are nothing untoward except they are overly flirty, it's like you are already dismissing them as not a big deal but I wonder if your husband would agree?

Now, the crush is just a symptom, I think. There are clearly serious issues that require you both to make an appointment with a marriage counselor. Unaddressed sexual dissatisfaction is an affair waiting to happen, IMO.

And individual therapy would be a perfect and totally private outlet for your needs given that it really isn't a good idea for you to tell friends about this or how hurt you are (friends can be really judgmental with these things and telling them puts them in an uncomfortable position and will be embarrassing to your husband). Also count your lucky stars that your crush doesn't reciprocate, I mean your situation would be a million times worse if he did!

Good luck!
posted by Tarumba at 12:30 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I once answered a question by someone tentatively planning to go through with an affair here. The answers to that question might help you, though in general they'll be a lot harsher.

As you'll see, I agree with those saying that this is like an addiction. When I was in the situation, that's how it felt. Almost nothing but time can help. But one thing you might try is reading forums about the aftermath of an affair, like Surviving Infidelity. It will be something of a dash of cold water. But it will show the sheer amount of work that you'd end up doing to repair things if an affair happened (and by your statement about him on your doorstep, I kinda think you're playing with fire here). But seeing what an affair could mean could shift your sense of what's possible now. E.g., you might feel "I shouldn't 'pressure' him for sex -- that would make him feel bad." Well, not as bad as he'd feel if you cheated! E.g., you might feel (completely hypothetical) "I shouldn't ask to go back to work. It's just impractical." Well, not as impractical as divorce! E.g., someone might think "I can't seek treatment for postpartum depression (again, total hypothetical), as therapy costs too much." But it won't cost as much as the couples therapy you two would need if this happened! In the aftermath of an affair, I gather, there is a big search for "why? what went wrong? how can we save our marriage? CAN we save our marriage?" I'd see if you can do that kind of soul-searching now. Re-reading your question, you say you're not sure you can open up to a therapist about this. Just think how much of that kind of opening up you'd be willing to do to save your marriage.

I'm afraid all of this sounds terribly academic in the face of the intense emotion of this crush. Cutting off that crush can feel like heartbreak, and not a lot really helps with that kind of pain. You can try exercise, intense novels about heartbreak or romance, for minor relief. Just try not to believe the lie, and keep in mind that no "hearty and well balanced meal" like your husband will seem very appealing while you're still hooked on the "sugary donut" of this crush. And find ways to build intimacy and newness with your husband. I believe that increasing intimacy can be kind of a thrill not too far from the thrill that illicit crushes generate, (e.g., confessing a forbidden desire is not unlike harboring a forbidden crush), but ultimately far more meaningful.
posted by salvia at 2:15 AM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your husband should DTMFA.

But more seriously, anyone who can say "I know that if he *were* interested, and would show up on my doorstep, there’s absolutely no way I could say no" and keep that information from her unsuspecting husband should not be married.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:10 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Every time you fantasize about the way you would hike/watch movies/go apple picking with Crush Guy, do that with your current partner. Share one of the inner true thoughts you would share with CG with your spouse. Either you will start to feel like this toward him or you'll find out other things. But you will have truly given your marriage a shot at being the great relationship, which is what I personally think marriages deserve.

I came back to this question and spent some time thinking about this advice from above. I love warriorqueen's comment (I remembered it specifically as excellent), but I'd like to differ slightly here.

In any relationship, two people bond in a certain way; they bring out certain facets of one another's personality. My guess is that the fantasy here is partially about being a different self. Trying to be that different self around someone with whom you bond in other ways may well fall flat, and that could cause the crush to worsen or your alienation to increase. This isn't to say you can't improve your relationship, but you can't just suddenly try to be Amelie if your marriage is like Fargo. Acting the ways you imagine acting with someone who is not like your husband just won't work well. That's why, in my comment above and the one I linked, I mentioned the importance of focusing on your relationship with your husband. Once you're focused on that, then start thinking about what would make it better.

To switch metaphors, it's like you are cooking a pot of soup. And it's kind of bland. You have to think specifically about what would improve that soup. The comparison to the crush won't help, because the crush is more like saying "I'm tired of eating soup; I want to go out for barbecue." Adding barbecue sauce to your potato leek soup would taste really weird, and you and your husband will see it as the weird, unworkable addition that it is. You've spent a year imagining the taste of barbecue, but now it is time to get that out of your mind, so that you can really focus on what will make the potato soup meal the best it can be. Some rosemary chicken? Garlic bread? Salad? Wine?

The question is how to focus on your primary relationship. It may well be a lot of frustration and work once you do. My suggestion above was to move beyond the fantasy into the desperate bargaining and solution-hunting that seems to follow an affair. Imagine your relationship destroyed and what you'd then try to do to save it. I suppose another idea would be to introduce some major adventure into your life with your husband -- plan to take a two-month sabbatical in another country or something. Or, since you mention wishing you could talk to friends or a therapist, it sounds like that's the solution your own self is pointing you to, making me think therapy would be a great place to start. And maybe give yourself permission to actually grieve the loss of the crush rather than saying to yourself "you deserve the pain." Just do it in safe ways (e.g., don't journal about it and leave it lying around!), and keep in mind it is a fantasy you're grieving, since you don't actually know him well. Good luck; this really isn't easy. I wish you all the best.
posted by salvia at 9:13 AM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

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