Not long ago, I heard from a friend of mine; a happily married man, deeply in love with and committed to his wife. He was shocked to feel a wave a physical attraction for a female friend with whom he shared an emotional bond.
As a therapist, I know that these kinds of things happen. I have never met anyone who got married with the intention of anything other than fidelity. More often, people just find they’ve wound up somewhere they had no intention of being, feeling emotionally and physically attracted to another person, and wondering how they got there.
Think of it in terms of degrees. For every single degree a plane flies off course, it will miss its destination by 92 feet per mile flown. A flight leaving JFK for LAX would be nearly 70 miles off course. A flight around the equator: nearly 500 miles off course. A miniscule error in the trajectory led the 1997 Mars Global Surveyor 100 kilometers off course after the 300 day, 500 million kilometer journey to Mars.
What starts out as a small departure from the original flight plan can wreak havoc on the overall success of a mission … or a marriage.
Let’s say you got married almost twenty years ago. Let’s say, you love each and respect each other. Let’s say you ignored some signs that you thought were just dealing with married life. You compromised, let go of some expectations. In the spirit of compromise, you tried to not be demanding or bossy. As a unit, you tried to be understanding; give each other space; build a family; take care of the kids; support each other. And let’s say, as you did that, you slowly drifted apart.
You love each other, but the fizz is gone. There is love, appreciation, but little in the way of excitement. Shared interests and activities return over and over again to one or two themes -- kids or home improvement.
Then, in the course of doing something for yourself, you meet someone. She or he becomes a friend and confidant. Now you have someone with whom you share an emotional bond and an interest outside of the kids. Furthermore, the ‘interest’ is probably a passion; otherwise you wouldn’t have made the effort to make time for it in your busy life.
So now you share a passion with someone you find interesting outside your marriage which has little excitement.
By degrees and over time. That is a how you wind up somewhere that you never imagined you’d be in your marriage.
What is left – which is the point where a new story begins – is what you decide to do about the attraction. Like my friend, this is what people who choose commitment do.
- At the first sign of physical attraction, step back and away from temptation.
- Clearly and unequivocally state your intention to be respectful to marriage vows and not pursue attraction.
- End the friendship or establish a protocol for managing emotions and friendship while protecting and preserving respective marriages, including integrating more physical/emotional distance into the friendship.
- Honestly disclose your feelings and confusion to your spouse. This will help you definitively end the attraction as well as put attention where it needs to be -- on the marriage.
- Turn attention toward re-committing, enhancing, and strengthening your marriage with the help of a qualified professional.
I believe this real life story has a better than average odds of a ‘happily ever after’ ending because the problems were dealt with immediately, honestly, and with commitment.