Recent national news stories and situation comedies have surfaced a new debate about whether secret crushes can help or harm your marriage. Many people argue that crushes can be good for marriages because they stir up passionate feelings that can be channeled back to spouses. Others argue that the mere thought of romance with another is cheating in itself. The truth is crushes can either strengthen or destroy your relationship — it all depends on how you view it.

Crushes, generally, are relationships that haven’t been realized, often existing more in our heads than in real life. Because married people typically aren’t looking for other romantic partners, crushes tend to sneak up on them. You can have a crush on someone you barely know, and the feelings can leave as quickly as they come.

If you are married and have a crush on someone other than your spouse, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you don’t love your wife or husband. But crushes should not be viewed as harmless either.

Crushes are like flashing yellow lights, warning us of potential trouble. If you want your primary connection to be with your spouse you should note the hazard and back away from it. Entertaining thoughts of the crush or fantasizing about the person keep you dancing near the danger and jeopardize your core relationship.

Crushes on people other than primary partners present opportunities — for better or worse — in long-term relationships. They can alert you to missing elements in your marriage, offering an opportunity not only to restore the relationship but also the potential to make it better than ever.

If you find yourself drawn romantically to someone other than your spouse, examine the reasons why. By uncovering what you are getting from the crush, you can discover what’s missing from your marriage.

For example, if the object of your affection makes you feel physically attractive, highly intelligent or deeply understood, those may be feelings missing in your marital relationship. If you’re best friends with the object of your affection, again, that may be the connection you’re missing with your partner.

Once you understand what you’re missing, you can work on developing it in your marriage relationship. It’s helpful to think back to who you both were when you were dating, such as the way you listened to each other and the affirmations you shared.

At the same time, you need to stop indulging in thoughts about your crush. Simple thought-stopping techniques can help. When you start thinking about your crush, tell yourself to “stop,” even if only in your head and change the channel of your thoughts to something else.

If you can’t move beyond your feelings for the other person or move your relationship with your spouse forward, a therapist specializing in relationships can help. You may find that other issues are at the core of these feelings.

Whenever faced with a crush as a married person, you get to choose what it means to you — an opportunity to strengthen your marriage or damage it. Just remember: a crush may be fun and titillating right now, but a loving marriage offers far bigger and better rewards for a lifetime.

As published in the November 2008 Edition of the Holmen Courier and Onalaska Community Life.