I coach on this one a lot. And whenever a client brings it up, I use these six powerful words that get to the heart of the issue: What are you making that mean?
When you get married, you aren't immune to developing feelings for someone else. Even if you're madly in love with your spouse. Even if you're a great guy. Even if you would never in a million years cheat. Even if you use the Pence rule. Even if you're anxiously engaged in a good cause. Even if you don't look at pornography. Even if ... even if .... even if.... .
This is totally different from what many people teach. If you google extra-marital attraction, you'll find all kinds of mess and heaviness. Articles will tell you it means you're not satisfied in your marriage, your spouse isn't meeting your needs, there's something fundamentally missing, and all kinds of other lies. This can be so damaging and can add weight to something that doesn't need to mean anything at all other than you have a human brain.
Brains are hard wired to develop attraction to people. Period. It's what has made our species survive for eons. When we spend a lot of time with someone we connect with, attraction can develop. This can happen at work, at church, at the gym, at the shelter where we volunteer, or anywhere else we spend a lot of time. It's totally natural.
Here's where we get into trouble: When we're with someone we feel attracted to, the brain floods with reward chemicals: dopamine and norepinephrine. These hormones make us feel euphoric, energized, alive. When we're attracted to someone, the same regions of the brain light up as the ones that fire with cocaine use. We can literally feel addicted to a person, not realizing it has very little to do with that other person, and everything to do with the science of the brain.
When we add to this natural attraction all kinds of fake meaning -- my spouse must not be enough for me, I must not be happy in my marriage, this new person makes me feel so much more alive than my spouse -- it makes us feel sad, questioning, or guilty. We devalue our marriages in our thoughts. What do our brains do when we feel these negative emotions? They search to balance the brain by firing the reward chemicals -- the very ones that get released when we're with this "crush." We start to seek them out. Can we run into them at the water cooler, at lunch, or on the subway? Maybe we can work together on that new project. What we're really doing is searching for our next "hit."
So what do you do if you start to notice this happening?
1) Realize that nothing has gone wrong. This is just biochemistry at work. Tell your brain this is not about you, it's not about your wife, it's not about this other person, and it's NOT about your marriage. Don't give this circumstance the power of problem status.
2) Rather than seeking this person out, consciously minimize exposure. Just like any other addiction, when you stop taking the drug, the cravings eventually stop as well. Sometimes you can't cut off contact entirely, but make sure any contact is legitimately necessary.
3) If you find yourself thinking about the person, use your pre-frontal cortex to redirect your thoughts to your wife. Give her a call. Send her a text. Plan a hot date with her. Go home and have sex. Focus your brain's reward center on her.
Sometimes realizing you've developed attraction to someone else can be the fuel to rekindle some of that new-relationship spark with your wife. And which fire grows? It's always, always, always the one you feed.