It shouldn’t shock you to learn that your wife or partner may be attracted to other men. You’ve probably checked out other women—maybe even fantasized about one—in the last 24 hours.
But that doesn’t mean this information is easy to digest: 70 percent of women in relationships admit to having crushes on other guys, according to new research from Indiana University.
Yes, full-on crushes. Like when she flirts with someone, daydreams about him, and doodles his name on her Lisa Frank notebook.
Or as one study participant put it: “[I] tried not to show anything outwardly, but did think about it a bit when masturbating.”
In the study, women who had been in a relationship for at least 3 years answered open-ended questions about their crushes. (And we’re not talking about college students; most of the subjects were married.)
The main thing we learned: It’s totally normal to have feelings for other people, said study author Margo Mullinax, Ph.D., who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University.
It’s a revolutionary idea, really. We’d all like to think that the ability to be attracted to someone else vanishes the second you exchange rings.
But why would it?
“Crushes can continue throughout your lifespan,” Mullinax said. “You don’t just stop having them because you’re in a relationship. It’s natural, when you’re around someone a lot, to develop feelings.”
While Mullinax said this phenomenon hasn’t yet been studied in men, let’s be honest: It’s completely logical that the same goes for guys.
Now for the dirty details. Many women described their crushes as casual and purely physical.
“Oh my, he was beautiful,” said one respondent. “It’s just a physical reaction when I’m near him,” said another.
Others talked about feeling chemistry or an emotional connection with the other guy.
A quarter of the crushes were on a coworker. (Surprise!) Exes and close friends were also common culprits.
The good news: Her crush has absolutely nothing to do with you or your relationship, Mullinax said. Attraction to other people is practically inevitable, regardless of whether your marriage is struggling or rock-solid.
It doesn’t mean she’s going to cheat, either. Many respondents went out of their way to specify that they would never act on their feelings.
And of all the women who confessed to having crushes on other guys, only 5 percent admitted to infidelity.
(The total percentage of people who cheat is actually much higher, around 20 percent for both men and women, according to other research from Indiana University. Read more: The Truth about How Many Women Cheat—and Why.)
In fact, many women said their feelings for the other guys even improved their relationships.
“They might feel more aroused throughout the day, then go home and transfer that desire to their partner,” Mullinax said.
Don’t like the idea that she gets horny for another guy?
Just know this: The more a woman fantasizes, the greater her sexual desire, Mullinax said. And a faithful wife who craves sex is nothing but good news for you. (Remember, 95 percent of these women never strayed.)
Other respondents said that thinking about being with another man reminded them of why they were with their partner.
For example: “I usually snap out of it and realize I wouldn’t really want to be with or see that person . . . and how much I appreciate my husband and all of his attributes and the healthy balanced relationship we have.”
How to Handle a Crush
If it’s so normal to have crushes on other people—but you don’t want to lose your spouse—the trick, then, is to figure out how to manage your feelings.
There’s no one right way to do that, Mullinax said. It all depends on what works for you. Some couples talk openly about their crushes, but if that’s going to cause hard feelings, it’s OK to keep your lips sealed, too.
If you’re not sure what to do about your own extramarital infatuations, consider taking a cue from the women in Mullinax’s study. They reported using several different strategies to defeat temptation—you’ll know which tactic is right for you.
Talk about it . . .
Telling your partner about your crushes can make them less of a threat, Mullinax said.
“We discuss [crushes] openly and in as much detail as we feel comfortable,” one woman wrote. “Because human attraction is natural, we recognize that it is better to be open and honest about these feelings and deal with jealousy through reassurance and trust.”
. . . Or don’t
You may feel that it’s pointless to discuss a meaningless crush. Keeping it to yourself can be healthy, too, Mullinax said. Some people would rather not think about their life partner having the hots for someone else—you probably know if your wife is one of them.
As one woman put it: “It doesn’t pose a real threat to our relationship and I don’t want him to worry unnecessarily.”
Bury your crush
Having the opportunity to cheat is one of the main predictors of whether you’ll cheat, according to shocking research. This why the avoidance technique employed by many of the study respondents is smart: Try to put the thoughts of your crush out of your mind and don’t spend time alone with him or her. Especially when drunk.
Or go ahead and fantasize
Keeping your crush all in your head is what works for many people. Some women wrote that they fantasized during masturbation or sex, and that was enough to satisfy their desires. “Then it’s fulfilled its useful purpose and it’s gone,” as one woman said.
Above all, know that crushes are harmless
The researchers did notice a trend in the few relationships that were negatively affected by crushes: The couples tended to demonize attraction to other people.
If you assume that your partner will never be attracted to someone else—or that attraction will inevitably lead to infidelity—it will cause disappointment and conflict, Mullinax said.
So remember that it’s natural for both of you to occasionally feel drawn to someone else. Just don’t forget why you picked her to spend your life with, and trust her to do the same.