Harmless Crush or Emotional Infidelity? Well, It Depends

A couple of friends who have a crush on each other flirting and laughing and getting close to crossing the line into emotional infidelity.

When you’re in a committed relationship for a long enough period of time you inevitably may have to, um, how should I put this, talk to people who aren’t your significant other. Seems easy enough. Hopefully, we’ve all done it before. But wait… what’s that warm fuzzy feeling? Is that a pang of desire—a budding infidelity? No, it’s just harmless attraction. Well, probably. Whatever it is, it’s important to understand the difference between flirting or having a crush and the deeper more serious problem of emotional infidelity, which could hurt your partner and your relationship.

So first things first: what does it mean to have a crush when you’re in a committed relationship? Well, the jury is still out on this one. Psychologist Ryan Howes answered in a Huffington Post article that crushes are normal in a relationship. Just because you’re in a committed relationship doesn’t mean that you stop meeting attractive people. Some of them you’ll even develop a connection with. According to Howes, it’s how you handle the crush that really matters.

Alternatively, other experts say that while having a crush in a relationship is permissible and common, it may signal underlying deficiencies in your relationship. So, if you can’t get enough of flirting around, it might be time for some introspection and to think about what your love life is missing. Despite the differing opinions on what having a crush means in a relationship, most experts tend to agree on one thing: if you have a crush, how you react to it is what carries the power of the crush. In other words, if you spend too much time and energy dwelling on (or with) the crush, then it becomes an act of emotional infidelity.

But what exactly is emotional infidelity? Psychology Today defines emotional infidelity as “any situation that creates or causes some degree of unavailability on the part of one partner that interferes with one particular aspect of the relationship, along with the quality of the relationship as a whole.” That’s a mouthful of course. I think it really boils down to this: devoting time or emotional energy to another person in such a way that it detracts from the richness of your committed relationship. These can be things like texting your crush constantly, spending time with them over your partner, or fantasizing about them in sexual scenarios on a regular basis. Keep in mind, that your crush doesn’t need to participate in order for it to be an emotional infidelity. If you’re overly invested in the idea of your crush that’s grounds enough for emotional. Of course, where the line is drawn between a fleeting fantasy and emotional infidelity is a murky one. It’s really defined by what you as the participant think should be considered. You probably already have a pretty good idea of what’s okay and what’s not.

So how can you avoid emotional infidelity? This may sound preachy, but the best thing to do is just consider your partner. Do right by them. Don’t make excuses to hang out with and contact your crush. It’s okay to chat with your crush if it’s an unplanned situation like work or a party, but don’t go seeking that connection. Also, draw the line with your crush if you feel things heating up. You might even mention that you want to cut off contact. Lastly, (this depends on the relationship) if you feel it’s right, then tell your partner. Disclosure can be tricky, because it can reaffirm your commitment with your partner or it could hurt them. Do what you feel would be best for them. After all, you love them right?

If emotional infidelity seems a little unclear… that’s because it is. Love isn’t clean and doesn’t always fit into neat easily confined boxes. The best advice is to do right by your partner. Make them feel like you prioritize their wants and emotional needs.

Alex Bocknek

Alex Bocknek is the senior editor of The Date Mix and works at Zoosk, the online dating service. He’s also a recovering music critic and an aspiring fiction writer (probably lost) on the way to an independent bookstore near you. He can be found occasionally musing about politics, philosophy, and love in the modern world.

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