She Said, He Said: Office attractions come with boundaries
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
I’ve been with my wife for 14 years and married for nine. I love her and truly believe our marriage is good. I’m still very attracted to her; we are great at co-parenting and still really enjoy each other’s company. My struggle is that I’ve recently found myself very attracted to a co-worker. There is a chemistry and spark with her that is invigorating. She’s smart, witty and playful, and I look forward to being around her. I haven’t and won’t pursue anything outside of the office with her, and I’m clear that I won’t cheat on my wife. What I want to know is whether this is normal for a married man to feel this way about someone else?
Signed, Attracted To Someone Else
Lori and Jeff: Getting married doesn’t mean you stop being human. There will always be other people who you find attractive or intriguing. The important consideration is how much you allow yourself to indulge in that space and why.
Lori: When we find ourselves drawn to someone like a moth to an inferno, the appeal often has very little to do with them. Yes, she’s attractive, witty and exciting, but ultimately, you’re willing to put your fingers in the flames because of what she makes you feel about you. She’s a super shiny mirror reflecting the parts of you that you haven’t seen for a while. She makes you feel desirable, intriguing or smart, and lights you up in a way that perhaps your wife used to earlier in your relationship. Is it normal to want to see ourselves in this way? Yes. But if you keep relying on hot co-workers to do it for you, boundaries will get crossed.
Over time, mystery and intrigue fade in relationships and are replaced with a deeper knowing of one another. Real emotional intimacy grows here, but the increased safety and stability can also bring boredom and complacency. The level of interest you have for your co-worker is a red flag that you’ve stopped investing in important parts of your marriage and in your own identity. Pay attention to specifically what feelings and characteristics this woman brings out in you and then commit to bringing those out in yourself with your family.
Jeff: A conversation that many couples fail to have early on in their relationships (if ever) is about each individual’s interpretation of infidelity. We all seem more comfortable defaulting to the standard definition of inappropriate sexual contact. But the lines keep getting more and more blurred with emotional connections forged through social media apps and texting. Just because you aren’t meeting up with her outside of the office, don’t assume you aren’t pushing the boundaries around what is acceptable behavior.
The infidelity discussion is certainly more difficult to have in your situation, years into your relationship, where many assumptions have been accepted as truth. Exploring each of your own perspectives might lead to some discomfort and hard feelings. Regardless of the challenges, you will need to create the time and space for this conversation so that you both have a clear understanding of what you each believe is cheating. What you are doing could hurt your wife or impact the trust you have built throughout your marriage because she may think it is cheating.
Jeff and Lori: What you feed grows. Focusing attention on your co-worker creates an emotional exit strategy for when conflict or disappointment arises in your marriage. You may not see it yet, but you’re creating an open door that you may be tempted to use. Close the door before it’s too late.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com, and your query may be selected for a future column.