Crushing on Someone, Despite Your Happy Relationship? An Expert Explains Why
When you're in a beautiful new relationship, it can feel like you'll never again have eyes for anyone else.
However, as life proves, that isn't always the case. Despite your happy coupling, after some time, it's fully possible to find yourself crushing on someone else. What gives?
Dr. Helen Fisher knows a lot about what's going on in our minds when we fall in love. She's a biological anthropologist who studies what happens in the brain throughout all kinds of relationships, and she had some fascinating insights for us about why we fall for people, even when we're in great relationships.
Sweety High: Why might someone start developing a crush, even when they're in a committed relationship?
Helen Fisher: I study the brain circuitry of romantic love, and it's like a sleeping cat—it can be awakened at any time. You can feel deep attachment to one person and feelings of intense romantic love for somebody else. In fact, you can even lie in bed at night and swing from feeling deep attachment to one person into a feeling of wild romance for someone else.
It's a basic brain system, like the fear system or the anger system, and it can be triggered at any time, even if you're in a very happy relationship with someone. There's a lot of data that says you can't feel madly in love with two different people at the same time. Even when you have a really good relationship with your partner—and certainly times of being in love with them, as well as feeling deeply attached and being physically attracted to them—you may no longer be madly in love with this person you go out with regularly, and so this brain system can be triggered when you see, meet or talk with somebody else.
SH: Does developing such a crush say anything about the existing relationship itself?
HF: It can be shocking, particularly if you're in a nice relationship with somebody who's right for you and you get an intense crush on someone who's no good for you at all. That's going to be a problem. You've now fallen for someone you can't take home to family, that you don't want to introduce to your friends, and you know is absolutely the wrong person for you. Yet, you can't stop thinking about them or checking for emails or texts or meeting up with them and fueling that fire, so it can cause real complications.
The opposite can also be true. You're deeply attached to somebody who you don't think is good for you, you've gotten into this relationship and it seemed good at the time, but it's gone along and you find that you don't have the same interests, you don't like that person's friends, they have very different goals in life, and you've fallen madly in love or have a crush on somebody who would be right for you.
Under those circumstances, feelings of intense romantic love will drive you to break-up with the person you're attached to and pursue a relationship with the one you're madly in love with. That brain system for romantic love can operate very detrimentally when it pulls you away from something that's good, or it can operate in a wonderful way to pull you toward someone who's the right person for you. All it is is the brain system. The circumstances around the brain system are what can make things complicated.
SH: In the honeymoon stage of a relationship, it can feel like you'll never be drawn to anyone else ever again? Why isn't that always the case?
HF: When you're madly in love with somebody, you really can't see anyone else. It really fogs the brain. Basic brain regions linked with decision making begin to decrease activity, and when you're madly in love with somebody, it drives up the dopamine system in the brain. Dopamine is associated with energy, focus, optimism and motivation. You're really focused on a particular person and you're excluding all others. Sometimes, you can go right past or miss somebody who'd be much better for you because you're so focused on the person you're in love with.
That's great if you can sustain that feeling and it's the right person. But generally, feelings of intense romantic love at least settle down a bit and you acquire a second feeling of deep attachment for that person, with intermittent times of romantic love. We've evolved into three different systems: physical attraction, intense romantic love and feelings of deep attachment. They can operate in any combination.
SH: What can someone do if they want to stop having this intense crush out of their relationship?
HF: Romantic love triggers the basic brain circuitry for addiction. It's a perfectly wonderful addiction when it's going well, a perfectly dreadful addiction when it's going poorly, and a perfectly inappropriate addiction when you're attached to the right person for you and the person you're in love with is the wrong person.
You also have to treat it as an addiction. Don't see the person, don't call, don't text, don't email, don't write. Don't ask your friends about them, or show up where they are. Don't flirt with that person if they do have to be around. It's a little bit like giving up anything else. You're not going to leave it around to tempt yourself if you want to give it up. If you need to give up somebody with whom you have a crush, just stay away. Don't connect. There's somebody camping out in your head, and you've got to get that person out. The way to do it is by going cold turkey.
If this sounds like you, click HERE to find out all the reasons most people need a reality check about their crush.