I have invited Tom Matthews, a colleague of mine from the San Diego area, to serve as a guest columnist and help answer today's question. Tom is a personal coach who helps a diverse range of clients deal with personal issues such as bolstering self confidence, recognizing and eliminating negative self talk, public speaking, and interpersonal communication. He is also the author of NAKED, ALONE, IN THE DARK, a forthcoming book about the power of the discovery of humble self confidence. I provided Tom with an anonymous copy of the following question:
I am happily married to the man of my dreams. We are still in love after many years and are truly partners in every way. I can't imagine being married to a better man.
The problem is that recently I have been having very strong romantic feelings for someone else -- someone who happens to be a woman. I am certain that she doesn't suspect my feelings for her. We are only casual acquaintances. She is not gay. But then again, I never would have classified myself as gay, either. I've never had romantic feelings for any other female.
What surprises me is that my love for my husband is diminished not at all by the love I feel for this woman. I am as happy with him as I have ever been but I still sometimes find myself pining for this lovely woman who has no clue how much I adore her.
Is this sort of attraction normal after many years of marriage? Am I just going through some sort of mid-life crisis? Or am I destined to always love this woman from afar knowing I would never do anything to hurt my husband?
signed, Surprised and Confused
First let's see what advice Tom has to offer and then I will provide my response.
Sometimes we are confronted with a person that, for reasons we cannot explain, induces a feeling of attraction or love in us that seems inappropriate. I often find the impact of such a person is based on a memory or an event in our lives. For instance, I had a client whose wife developed exactly the sort of attraction for another woman that you describe. Turns out the other woman reminded her of a teacher who had nurtured her when she had no one else to do so. Even the woman's name was the same as the teacher. Thankfully she saw a therapist before she spoke with the "other woman." The therapist helped her discover the object of her desire was just an ordinary person, and not an angel or some sort of salvation.
Unless there have been other events or circumstances to suggest you have homosexual or bisexual tendencies, this type of attraction almost certainly indicates a desire for nostalgic comfort. The woman to whom you are attracted is probably the personification of someone (or sometime) that tugs a heart string of simpler and easier times, thus the attraction after several years of happy marriage. Call it an emotional mid-life crisis, a need to be comforted and a desire for a simpler time.
The bottom line? You have, by your own admission, what most people pray for: a happy marriage. Whatever you do, do not jeopardize that for the indescribable, fleeting emotional need to have something else. Look deep into your heart and see what is genuinely working in your intentions and motivations concerning this woman. Whatever superficial comfort or thrill you may get in pursuit of these feelings comes with an enormous price tag, even if you never told your husband of your intentions or what transpired. Regret and unspoken truth (the worst kind of lie) is a bitter pill to swallow once an impulse is acted upon.
Are you bi-sexual? I doubt it. Does this woman evoke something in you? Absolutely. Should you ignore it and be grateful for what you have? Yes!!! Stop being confused and start being grateful.
To me, the issue of commitment to a marriage is the same regardless of the gender of the "other person." Just to gain some perspective, what if you found yourself attracted to another man? You still love your husband, but for some reason you feel a rush of excitement and warmth whenever you meet or think about this other guy. Should you do anything about it?
Here's the thing. Everyone meets attractive people. How could we not? The world is full of them, and every once in a while we meet someone who strikes a special chord. There is a wow factor, something about them that makes us sit up and take special notice. When you are married, though, you have a responsibility to file those feelings where they belong. Go ahead and enjoy that tiny tingle of pleasure that comes from seeing someone attractive, then file it under "Life's Harmless Diversions" and get on with your day.
Would you find it easier to recognize this attraction as a diversion if the other person were male? Possibly. In any case, the issue of fidelity is the same and so should be your response.
You are left wondering, though, how you could be attracted to another woman. Tom is right; this woman -- no, strike that, your perception of this woman -- fills some need for you. She invokes a feeling for which you have a strong need. It could be that when you think of her you feel safe or needed or mothered or not alone in the world. Like Tom suggested, this may be because she reminds you of someone else or another time in your life. The important realization for you, though, is that it is this feeling for which you are actually yearning; she is only the stimulus.
What if you started spending more time with this woman and tried to develop a relationship with her. First, I suspect you would discover that you have never been attracted to women in general because you are not bisexual, so the relationship would flounder on those grounds. More than that, you would find that these special feelings she invokes in you would subside. Real, day-to-day life would intrude. You would discover the grass is no greener on her side of the fence, that she is just another person with both nice and not-so-nice attributes. At that point you would realize you had made a tremendous mistake.
Yes, you are going through some sort of crisis, and no, you are not destined to love her forever. Try to identify the need she seems to fill for you. If you can't come up with this on your own, you might consider seeing a therapist for some confidential counseling. You need to find another way to fulfill that need, which might mean coming to terms with some unresolved insecurity or re-connecting with your mother on a deeper emotional level. If you can accomplish this, then both your crisis and your misplaced attraction will be over.
All the best,
Do you have a relationship issue in your life? Tell me about your situation and it may be featured as a Dismaying Story. Comments can be anonymous and the identity of email respondents always remains confidential.