You often hear couples express their commitment with expressions like “I only have eyes for you.” But realistically, you’re going to be attracted to other people even when you’re in a monogamous relationship. Is that ever a problem, and if so, when does it become one?
Being attracted to someone else in of itself isn’t a problem — there are no thought police. But it could potentially lead to problems if you’re acting on it inappropriately, using it as a substitute for working on your relationship, or letting it consume you. “We are all human beings and being monogamous is hard for the most of us,” NYC-based intimacy expert and relationship coach Lia Holmgren tells Bustle. “It’s natural. There are not many species that are monogamous in nature. It’s totally normal to be attracted to someone else. It can be a model, porn star, movie star, or someone you interact with daily, but the question is what you do with that attraction.”
The line between innocent attraction and cheating varies from relationship to relationship and depends on what relationship model you follow. “It’s important to negotiate boundaries of a relationship, such as open relationship, monogamous relationship, and polyamorous relationship,” marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind tells Bustle. “These boundaries need to be negotiated before you make any decisions on your own.”
Here are some questions to ask yourself to figure out if your attraction to other people crosses the line.
1You’re Focusing On Other People To Avoid Your Own Relationship Issues
Frequently daydreaming about being with someone else or regularly flipping through your ex’s Facebook photos could serve as an escape from your relationship. “If you like someone else, see if this is because you’re numbing out and avoiding talking to your partner about an important issue,” says Ziskind. “If your partner is not giving you love, you may be turning to someone else to fill that void.”
2You Plan To Act On Your Attraction
Some couples may have agreements that allow them to act on extra-relationship attraction, or to act on it if they get permission from their partners first. But if your relationship doesn’t include such an arrangement, you’ll want to be sure that you don’t have any plans to pursue a relationship with the other person. If you want to be with other people, that’s a whole conversation to have with your partner. “Before you act upon your feelings, it’s very important to talk with your partner,” says Ziskind.
Even if you’re not dating or being sexual with someone else, you can still be cheating if you’re engaging in micro-cheating behaviors like sexting or hiding your interactions with the other person, Kevin Darne, author of My Cat Won’t Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany), tells Bustle. “Examples such as sending someone nude photos or receiving nude photos via text or email with someone who lives around the globe isn’t traditional cheating,” he says. “However, most people would be upset to learn their partner or spouse was engaging in such activity.”
4You’re Getting Close To Someone Else Just Because You’re Attracted To Them
Developing a relationship with someone because of physical attraction is a clue that you might have ulterior motives. “Befriending a stranger simply because you found them attractive is not an innocent act,” says Darne. “Essentially, you are creating the possibility for an opportunity whereby you get to know them better.” Holmgren recommends asking yourself, “What are you trying to achieve with befriending someone you don’t know already because you’re attracted to them? One might need it for their ego or is trying to get more and that’s not OK.”
For this reason, Holmgren recommends keeping people you’re attracted to at arm’s length. “Don’t play with the fire and try to approach the person or become closer.”
5You’re Emotionally Cheating
Cheating may not involve any physical contact. It may instead mean forming a deep emotional connection with someone else. One example of emotional cheating might be venting to someone about your relationship problems until they say, “If you were mine I would worship the ground you walked on,” says Darne. “It is not uncommon for these amateur counseling sessions to evolve to a point whereby two people believe they are the only ones who get each other.”
Complimenting another person’s appearance, engaging in exaggerated smiling or laughter, affectionately touching them, making sexual jokes, or dressing up to see them are all forms of flirtation, says Darne. “Finding yourself paying extra attention to what you are wearing when you are likely to see a particular person should be a red flag for yourself.”
“If you become obsessed with the other person and it’s affecting your own relationship or behavior to your partner or your sexual life, that’s not fair to the relationship and should be worked on,” says Holmgren. For example, it’s OK to look through an attractive person’s Facebook photos, but not to do it every day or to the point that it interferes with other activities. “If you stare at some sexy people on social media more than you look into the eyes of your partner, that can be a problem,” says Holmgren.
In short, any behavior you wouldn’t want your partner to know about is probably teetering into cheating territory. “If you are engaging in any activity that you would not do if your mate were sitting right next to you, there is a good chance you know they wouldn’t approve,” says Darne. “As much as you attempt to justify doing whatever it is you want to do, ultimately, it comes down to what your partner considers to be betrayal or cheating.” If you’re struggling to sort out your attraction to other people, it may help to find a therapist, either individually or as a couple, to discuss your feelings.