Help! I’m Attracted to Someone Else: How to Handle Sexual Chemistry When You’re In a Relationship
There's few things as exciting as the spark of sexual chemistry - you feel vital, desirable, like you're alive! The experience can be empowering. The fallout can be devastating... So what do you do when you're in a relationship and find yourself sexually attracted to someone else?
Finding yourself attracted to someone else when you're already in a committed relationship can be an unsettling experience. But it's crucial to understand that you're not alone- this is super common and nothing to feel weird or bad about! If you're asking yourself "Why am I attracted to someone else?" then you're in the right place (I wrote this for you).
What is Sexual Attraction?
Being attracted to someone else is a biopsychosocial experience…which is a dense academic way of saying that sexual attraction isn’t just about your body, it’s also about your mind and the broader influence of people & culture.
So, ‘bio’ is for biological stuff- like your physical health, hormones, and genetics. ‘Psycho’ is for psychological stuff – your thoughts, emotions, and how you see the world. And ‘social’ (or sociocultural) is about your social context –relationships, your upbringing, and cultural norms & expectations.
That means it’s not as simple as thinking someone's hot & wanting to hook up. There’s a whole bunch of factors that create that experience for you. If you can understand more about the WHAT and the WHY, then you can do the HOW of making choices & taking action instead of being helpless to chemistry.
What Does it Mean to be Attracted to Someone Else?
We humans are meaning-making machines; we tell ourselves stories that explain what happens to us, why it happens, and what it means about us. At best, those stories are inaccurate and missing a lot of important information. At worst, they're pure fantasy and confirm our deepest fears.
Most of the distress that arises when you're attracted to someone else comes from the story each partner tells themselves; what it means about them, the relationship, and their life.
Whenever you're attracted to someone else, the most problematic stories are born from patriarchal & mononormative social narratives about relationships, like;
- Being attracted to someone else is dangerous for your relationship/s
- If I'm attracted to someone else, I should either block them from my life, or fuck them
- Feeling chemistry with someone else means I should question my committed relationship/s
- Flirting, fantasising, or attraction to someone else is cheating
- Spending time with someone I'm attracted to, and whose company I enjoy, is an emotional affair
- I am attracted to this other person because my partner/s did, or didn't do something
- If things were good in my relationship/s then I wouldn't be feeling this way about someone else
But this isn't limited to monogamy-
There's damaging & problematic narratives in consensually non-monogamous relationships too, like;
- We're in an open relationship so I can flirt with or fuck anyone
- I can behave however I like (be authentic, speak my truth) and if you don't like it it's your problem
- If you're in an open relationship, you shouldn't be jealous
- If I'm jealous or hurt then it means I'm not ready for ethical non-monogamy
- If I ask for limits then it means I'm immature, unreasonable, needy, or controlling
As you examine your own meaning making, it's worth wondering which of these influences have informed your ideas (more on that later).
Is It Normal to Be Sexually Attracted to Someone Else While in a Relationship?
- Yes, it absolutely IS normal to be attracted to someone else when you are in a relationship, and
- Yes it is absolutely normal NOT to be attracted to someone else when you are in a relationship.
As with every aspect of sexuality & relationships, there is no normal. Your experience of your relationship is valid and worthy of attention.
This type of meaning making is very unhelpful. It is likely to lead down paths of shame and blame which aren't good for you, for them, or for your relationship/s.
Why Am I Attracted to Someone Else?
This is a little bit the same as the previous question, with a dash of sorrow.
Its equal parts "why is this happening to me?" and "is there something wrong with me?" and "this is confusing/painful/challenging" and "what the fuck do I do?"
The basic answer is: biopsychosocial, bitches!
That is, you are having a chemical & physiological reaction to someone, who maybe also ticks some boxes about what you think is hot.
But I don't think that'll ease your pain. Your answer will be the result of deep introspection, embodied exploration, and experimentation. I hope as you engage with the reflections & experiments below you will begin to uncover what is best for you in your life.
Does This Mean My Relationship is Over?
There's a weird narrative that sexual energy is either dangerous (and must be stamped out), or destiny (and must be pursued).
In a relationship with rigid rules about what constitutes infidelity, being attracted to someone else might be interpreted as a betrayal. In this context the chemistry of sexual energy can be seen to have a life of its own. It lures the unwilling to cheat, or lie, or otherwise betray their partner. “If I play in this sexual energy, then I am cheating”.
This kind of belief will lead to a 'block' approach, where the partner experiencing the attraction is expected to override and shutdown their attraction, and in more extreme scenarios to end any contact with the other.
The other side of this belief is that if one doesn’t block sexual energy, then the only other option is to fuck it. That is, this chemistry is so strong that;
- I am too weak to fight it (or don’t want to)
- Or, it must mean that this other relationship is meant to be.
Neither of the above is true. Being attracted to someone else is an inherently neutral event. It doesn't mean anything at all.
I invite you to be gentle with yourself, and curious, as you consider the questions in the action taking section below.
How to Navigate Being Attracted to Someone Else
If your attraction to someone else has become intrusive, distressing, or otherwise unpleasant for you and/or your partner/s, you would do well to begin couples therapy as soon as possible.
This is a really common relational experience, and if it is handled with sensitivity & care can lead to healthier happier relationships.
In contrast, when an issue like this is ignored or left to fester, the cumulative frustration, confusion, resentment and (insert flavour of angst here) become the biggest factor in any future couples therapy. That is, the work of addressing the actual issue is 100 times harder in the face of those feels.
There's no single way to handle this, it will depend on your culture, family, lived experience, intersections in identities, and other contextual elements that have influenced your personality and approach to life.
Here are a series of reflection questions to help YOU decide what is happening, and how to proceed.
Step 1 - Check In With Yourself
Take some time to consider the following;
- How do you physically feel? What are the literal sensations in your body? Where are they?
- What emotions are you experiencing? There are rarely single emotions when you are attracted to someone else, it's common that there are both positive & negative emotions. Sometimes at the same time!
- What story are you telling yourself? Begin with "the story I am telling myself..." Be honest with yourself about how much of the story is made up in your head.
- What are the values that are important to you? What are your relational values and how do you express them?
- Is this actually a problem for you? Let's not be too concerned about what you should or shouldn't feel, think, or do. Deeply consider how being attracted to someone else actually effects you.
Step 2 - Process Your Shit
Take some time to process your experience;
- Manage your emotions. Practice good emotional hygiene and emotional first aid.
- Assess the danger. Being attracted to someone else might be dangerous. Not for your relationship/s, for YOU. What's the risk you're going to do something you regret? *
- Identify the yearning. Being attracted to someone else can highlight a need or desire we're yearning for... then we make it mean that our partner/s aren't right for us, or trying hard enough. That's crazy!
- Tell someone. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist about your crush. Sometimes it's the secret that is exciting, not the crush.
- Assess your relationship. When I was 21 I had a big crush on someone at work. I stayed in a shit relationship instead acting on the fact that I really fucking liked someone else. It's okay to change your mind! When I was 35 I wanted to leave. I thought an issue was unresolvable. We've been 10 years together, he's the love of my life. I guess I'm just saying; here you are at a cross roads. It's your life, baby.
- Is this part of the natural rhythm of a relationship? As relationships evolve, they move both in a linear fashion, as well as through energy cycles and seasons of love. Being attracted to someone else, wondering if this is as good as it gets, and feeling dissatisfied are common experiences in every intimate relationship.
- Consider if this is a PATTERN. Could this be attachment style fuckery? Are you pathologising your partner? Are you always wondering if you'd be happier somewhere else? These are things you might raise with a therapist.
- Consider if this is a PROBLEM. I crush easily on new friends, new colleagues, and new people. I feel social, mental, & conversational chemistry (which isn't sexual), sometimes I also feel sexual chemistry AND it is a source of delight for me! I don’t interpret it to mean that I need to do or say anything at all. So it's a pattern, but not a problem.
- Is it ADHD? Just a lil note here, as I and many of my clients are neurodivergent... I personally get crushes All. The. Time.It's a hyperfixation thing, like a new hobby. That new shiny person just is SO GREAT! This almost always runs it's course quickly, and the relationship settles down. I'm here to say, if it's not a problem, it's not a problem!
* I'm not making judgements about whether you stay or go, whether you cheat, or whether you ethically act on your attraction. I am asking you to ask yourself: "Am I able to maintain the necessary boundaries so that I behave congruently with my values & relational agreements?"
Step 3 - Consider the Context
Consider the contextual elements of this attraction to someone else. It really fucking matters.
- Where are you? (work, holidays, home) Office romance anyone? Don't shit in your nest! There is absolutely no good reason to act on sexual energy in an inappropriate context. No. Good. Reason.
- How long has it been happening? (once, a few times, every day) Are you worrying too much about a passing phase? Are you allowing an issue to drag on without addressing it?
- Who are you sexually attracted to? (friend, colleague, teacher, partner's friend) Again, don't shit in your own nest. You need to consider very carefully the impact of your choices on your existing relationships because you can't go back.
- What is your relationship structure? (monogamous, open, poly, ENM) Do you feel like the current structure is the right one for you?
- Which relationship roles are working? Consider whether the roles you play in your exisiting relationship need a refresh.
- What are your relational agreements? (how do you approach, discuss, and act on sexual attraction to someone else) This is super important and will dictate the way that you manage this moment. Ideally you have already talked about what to do if either of you are attracted to someone else!
Step 4 - Make a Plan
- Take your time. This is a decision that deserves to be made from a place of love & information, not fear & pressure. Instead of a continual assessment of the minutiae of day-to-day life, make time for yourself to consider the true potential and implications of your decision.I recommend that you choose a period of time of more than a week, and less than 4 weeks - that should be long enough for consideration and not so long that things escalate.
- Consider your options. There are always pros and cons, allow yourself to explore many options (not just the obvious ones)
- Discuss with your partner. If your relationship is on the line, include your partner/s. It is discourteous & uncool to make this decision unilaterally.
- Write the story of this decision. How would you like to tell the story about this part of your life in 10 years? What do you want to be able to say about your actions?
- Get professional help. This is important depending on the scale of your decision. If your relationship, job, family, friends, or other parts of your life are at risk here please consider seeking outside help.
How to Handle Sexual Attraction to Someone Else Workbook
The How to Stop the Arguing Workbook has a fully illustrated explanation of the Traffic Light System, PLUS beautifully designed worksheets with reflection questions, space to make notes, and summary sheets that you can print for easy reference for you & your partner.
This digital purchase includes the workbook in the following formats;
- Full colour eBook + worksheets
- Minimalist version + worksheets - dyslexia & printer friendly (B&W & no images)
- Worksheets only - colour
- Worksheets only - B&W + no images