How to Tell Your Partner You Have a Crush on Someone Else

Man and Woman Noticing Each OtherI recently wrote about pornography use and how it doesn’t necessarily or even usually signify impending doom for a relationship. Some of the responses to the article surprised me—not because there was debate, but because many partners expressed feelings of insecurity about their significant others finding someone else attractive. Some people said they wanted their partners to communicate about their pornography usage, some preferred a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, and others preferred to operate under the assumption that their partners do not use porn, without ever discussing the subject openly.

These same “camps” can be applied to partners who develop feelings for other people. Some partners would prefer not to know about those feelings unless they become a problem for that person—if they’re having trouble setting boundaries around their own behavior. A colleague of mine over the summer shared that she and her wife have an agreement to always tell the other person when one develops a crush. Like my colleague, some partners would prefer always to know—this helps them develop an intimate foundation of trust and to make informed, collaborative decisions about the people in their lives. Others would prefer to live under the illusion that they won’t develop attractions or feelings for other people, or that their partners won’t.

I’m here today to discuss productive ways of handling crushes that develop while in a relationship. I’m also here to deliver some bad news. In the same way it’s unreasonable to expect that your partner will never find another person attractive, it’s not especially realistic to believe he or she won’t develop crush-like feelings for another person, even while remaining committed to you.

The truth is that, no matter our preferences, we often have little control over the things we think and feel. And when we buck up against our thoughts and feelings, rather than owning and accepting them as parts of our lives, they tend to grow.

It’s harder to regulate our thoughts and feelings when we’re shaming ourselves. The same could be said for other internal states we struggle with—anxiety and depression, for example. When we live in relationship to others who react to our feeling states, we don’t just experience baseline symptoms of anxiety and depression; we may also judge ourselves for having those feelings, and then deal with added anxiety as we anticipate the ways our partners might react. From this web, obsessions can develop.

Not Talking about It Isn’t the Answer

One way to take power away from anxiety, depression, or in this case a crush is to talk openly about it. I will specify here that I am writing this article mainly for couples whose communication already feels emotionally safe. We all react poorly to our partners sometimes, but this taboo topic involves a certain ability to empathize and to see from multiple perspectives. If that’s not already happening in your relationship, that’s a red flag, and this advice isn’t for you.

It’s common for people in relationships to try to squash the possibility of their partners attracting other people (and vice versa). And it’s this type of controlling action that hushes secure communication about the tough stuff that otherwise brings partners closer together. When we put limits on our partners from a place of fear, we are not giving them a chance to demonstrate their trustworthiness.

I also want to state that feeling threatened by your partner developing a crush is totally normal. However, it’s important to recognize that this type of jealousy is in part about self-esteem and not just about your partner’s behavior. It’s common for people in relationships to try to squash the possibility of their partners attracting other people (and vice versa). And it’s this type of controlling action that hushes secure communication about the tough stuff that otherwise brings partners closer together. When we put limits on our partners from a place of fear, we are not giving them a chance to demonstrate their trustworthiness.

Over time, this dynamic—one partner using insecurity to control his or her partner, while the partner, in turn, keeps his or her desires a secret, leading to resentment about not being understood—is what dooms partnerships.

Here’s the thing about secrets: they become pressure-cookers for strong feelings. The more one feels like he or she shouldn’t be doing something, the more shame he or she may experience. Rather than serving as a motivator to stop behaviors, shame becomes paralyzing. In partnerships where a secret is finally revealed, partners may spin into feedback loops in which they react to one another and elevate the other person’s anxiety, often without being able to self-regulate their own. This can reinforce feelings of shame and punish partners for trying to confront uncomfortable topics head-on.

How to Decide If a Crush Is Worth Mentioning

Let’s say there’s a classmate or new coworker and after a couple of conversations, you start to get that fluttery feeling in your chest. Depending on what you’re like, you might either want to pursue the person or run for the hills. Regardless of what your gut is telling you to do, let’s also say you’re in a committed partnership. How can you communicate about these feelings in a way that’s fair to all parties?

First, search yourself. Rather than pushing your feelings away, recognize that what you’re dealing with is a crush. You don’t need to become attached to this label, as crushes and feelings are fickle things, but give yourself the opportunity to explore your thoughts and feelings, perhaps on paper, or talk them out with a compassionate friend. Chances are, your crush will already feel less powerful.

Another option is to meditate—simply to witness how strong the tides of desire ebb and flow from moment to moment. Ask yourself pointed questions and see what clarity can come when you stop trying to push your thoughts away.

Sex educator Dr. Emily Nagoski (2015) offers tips for couples and individuals who are working through their emotions and relays nonjudgmental communication strategies for acknowledging those emotions. She tells us to treat our emotions as if they are sleepy hedgehogs sitting in our laps. It is not helpful to scream at your partner about the presence of the hedgehog, nor is it useful to pretend the hedgehog is not there; the existence of the hedgehog is going to impact you and your partnership. But by dealing with the hedgehog—the emotion—tenderly and with compassion, you and your partner will prosper.

How to Bring Up a Crush with a Partner

If you decide it’s best to speak up about your crush, you might experience even more anxiety than you did about the crush in the first place. For difficult dialogues, I strongly recommend Reid Mihalko’s Difficult Conversation Formula (Mihalko, 2012), which I first found in the book Girl Sex 101 (Moon & diamond, 2014, p. 54) but is also available as a downloadable worksheet in the reference list. It goes like this:

  1. I have something to tell you.
  2. Here’s what I’m afraid will happen when I tell you …
  3. Here’s what I want to have happen …
  4. Here’s what I have to tell you …

Sometimes, it’s OK for conversations with your partner to feel like a first draft, but recognize when that’s what they are and maybe say so. You don’t have to have a thesis or a conclusion when you sit down to talk with your partner, but owning that “these are my feelings and I don’t necessarily want to do anything about them, but I feel like you should know what they are” is incredibly helpful for some people. And because this confession is likely to summon strong feelings, maybe try drafting out your points ahead of time—either with the worksheet, in your head, or with a trusted friend.

If you have a crush on someone who is not your partner, here’s an example of how a difficult dialogue might be introduced using steps 2 and 3:

I’m afraid if I tell you, you’ll get upset and will question my love for you, but that’s not what this is about for me.

I want us to be able to talk about this because if we don’t now, I’m afraid it’s going to grow. I want us to have a trusting partnership where we can talk about the things that make us uncomfortable, even when it’s scary.

Chances are, if both partners are able to recognize that the other person is honest, has good intentions, and keeps the best interests of the partnership in mind, this conversation will provide both partners with an opportunity to strengthen trust and grow intimacy.

Best of luck!

References:

  1. Mihalko, R. (2012). Say what’s not being said: Reid’s formula for difficult conversations. ReidAboutSex. Retrieved from http://reidaboutsex.com/difficult-conversation-formula/
  2. Moon, A., & diamond, kd. (2014). Girl Sex 101. Lunatic Ink.
  3. Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

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  • 22 comments
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  • Sally

    Sally

    October 22nd, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    Oh No! this is a definite no no to me. Keep it to yourself and fantasize about the person if you have to, but I don’t wanna know. Don’t ask don’t tell!

  • Wesley

    Wesley

    January 4th, 2017 at 8:14 AM

    LOL, funny but thanks for the honesty.

  • Rebecca

    Rebecca

    October 22nd, 2015 at 12:30 PM

    I am the total opposite of Sally.
    I think that I am too afraid that if we did not know about it and talk about it then it would have more of a chance to grwo into something else, something that was way more than just a little old crush.
    I don’t think that it is unusual to have a crush on someone else, but it can be bad if those feelings start to grow and then you don’t know what to do about it.
    It is one thing to have those feelings but you have to know that it is something that it will not be too wise to act upon.

  • marc

    marc

    October 22nd, 2015 at 5:41 PM

    I want to know if there is anything to be worried about basically. Small crush? Eh, those are kind of normal. Thinking about this person in way that says you are thinking of cheating? then that’s something that has to be addressed.

  • CJ

    CJ

    January 27th, 2017 at 8:26 AM

    Whoa, easy there! So many of the comments sound like a partner’s crush would be the end of the relationship. That’s not realistic at all! If you have any understanding of love and commitment, you will know that there is an infatuation phase when you are head over heels with your partner and you have all the hallmarks of a crush. Then you move beyond that into a love that is quieter, less dramatic perhaps, based in reality and commitment, and a willingness to see the person you are in relationship with for the person they really are. No one person is ever going to meet all your needs and it is unrealistic to expect they would. But when you love someone, you commit to a level of behavior. That standard of behavior does not govern every single emotion you have, it governs how you will handle your feelings and how you treat your partner. So your heart may develop a little flutter of a crush on someone you meet, but you do not behave in a way that compromises your relationship. We crush on things all the time – a new perfume, a new food, a new video game, an actor. As long as you are committed to not acting on that attraction, you’re good!! Given time, it generally fades away. If it does not and it develops into love, then you might have to search your heart and act. But try to be mature enough to know they are not the same thing.

  • Theresa

    Theresa

    October 22nd, 2015 at 6:15 PM

    I think labeling your feelings as a crush is a bad idea. It may be more helpful to say exactly what happens like I get butterfljes in my stomach when i am around so and so. Maybe because I think he so and so is good looking and funny. And just bc so and so is good looking and funny, it doesn’t mean I want to be with them and it doesn’t take away from what you have with your partner.

  • David

    David

    October 23rd, 2015 at 8:08 AM

    Listen, I know guys who crush on other women all the time but they would be majorly miffed if they found out that their wife was thinking about another guy that way. I honestly believe that many of them would divorce over that, they would feel so betrayed when they are doing the same exact thing and thinking nothing of it.

  • monroe

    monroe

    October 23rd, 2015 at 3:12 PM

    usually these things will go away on their own because they are typically going to be based on something that is superficial and nothing of substance. Why would I want to risk losing my whole world over something that at best is probably fleeting and ultimately of little interest or value to me? I am not willing to make a large sacrifice such as that.

  • Melody

    Melody

    October 24th, 2015 at 6:40 AM

    I choose to look at it like this-

    would it rather it be you telling your significant other, or the person that you have this crush on telling them?

    I think that it would be MUCH better if you just came out as truthful to them yourself.

  • matthew

    matthew

    October 26th, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    But porn and a crush are WAY different things.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    August 29th, 2018 at 5:48 PM

    True. Someone using porn is making a decision to be sexually stimulated by someone else. It’s a conscious choice to be unfaithful. Getting a crush just kind of happens and you can put a stop to it by changing your patterns and thoughts.

  • Alison

    Alison

    October 27th, 2015 at 8:42 AM

    I would initially say that I did not want to know but then again if I don’t know anything about it then how am I supposed to try to fix something that could be wrong? I know that there are always going to be times to choose your battles, and maybe even bury your head in the sand a little bit, but this I am not that sure about. I am afraid that if I did ignore it too long then something could happen that no one was really ever expecting.

  • Joyce

    Joyce

    October 28th, 2015 at 10:10 AM

    I feel the need to chime in here and say that while there are some marriages I guess that are strong enough to withstand the use of porn, mine was not because quite frankly I became very tired of trying to be something that I wasn’t and that I knew that I could never live up to when it concerned sex. You just get tired of trying to be that, it made me uncomfortable but it became like he could not live without it. Once I decided that that was the real case and that he was not willing to give it up, I finally had to give up on the marriage.

  • Carson

    Carson

    October 28th, 2015 at 5:07 PM

    Am I wrong to say that I would not be okay with this AT ALL???

  • Hunter

    Hunter

    December 10th, 2015 at 12:29 PM

    Na, not okay. Ever. If you’re developing a crush on someone else then your emotional needs are not being met by your partner. When my partners in the past fulfilled me emotionally, I never thought about anyone else. The only times I had were in relationships that had been falling apart for a long time. You’re also probably much more susceptible to a crush if you’re with someone you’ve settled for. Real love doesn’t leave room for petty crushes.

  • Nisse

    Nisse

    December 30th, 2015 at 3:46 PM

    Hmmm, I am in total disagreement with the crush factor. If I’m in to, and you’re totally in to me, there is no time, space or desire for extras.

  • Olivia

    Olivia

    October 2nd, 2016 at 11:13 PM

    I read this because I have a work crush and I feel extremely bad about it…If my boyfriend had a crush, I wouldn’t be angry or jealous because I know he wouldn’t give up our relationship for whoever this woman was. But I don’t know if he feels the same way, or if I have this crush because of some void in our relationship.

  • Mercedes

    Mercedes

    December 12th, 2016 at 12:17 PM

    Wow! Here’s my point of view. We tend to get so lost in the trivial web of emotions that we feel having a crush on someone is the end of a relationship. Ask yourself though, if one is pulling away, then maybe it is time to reconsider where the relationship truly stands. If it’s not meeting your needs, then it’s time to politely bow out and look for other greener pastures. I know, a little hockey but in essence, true. Why fight and argue and scream and yell when you simply can accept there are certain relationships that think they are in it for the long haul and at any moment, can end. In my world, no one owns anyone, because if my significant other truly was for me, then I wouldn’t have to worry about said “crush” because there would be none. But if at anytime his or her heart is led astray, then encourage it and find your own way with the one that is truly meant for you. That ‘s just my take and my peace all wrapped in one. I have a life to live and experience. If the end has come, so be it, but be civilized and let go and remember it as such, “an experience” with another soul. Easier said that done but once you look at your life as a whole, you realize you have no time for negative vibes and unnecessary drama because you have a journey, an adventure and a life experience waiting for you. Much love.

  • Iris

    Iris

    January 27th, 2017 at 6:44 PM

    I am a lesbian, and I have a girlfriend. I can’t think of her in a sexual but a cute way. But this one guy looks REALLY hot and I have a crush on him. He also doesn’t know I exist. Truth be told, I kinda stalk him. I want to tell my girlfriend but I don’t want to break her heart. It hurts. Plus when I uh..masturbate…I think of him. But when I talk to my Girlfriend, I still love her. I can’t believe myself.
    :C

  • Makiela

    Makiela

    June 21st, 2017 at 7:07 PM

    Okay…But what if it is more than just a crush?

  • Shelia B.

    Shelia B.

    October 25th, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    Hey there deliah!

  • Aidan

    Aidan

    February 19th, 2018 at 3:40 PM

    People seem to forget that humans are like other primates, we get seemingly random urges and desires because the caveman deep inside us all goes “that person would make a good mate”.
    Or it can be a nostalgia thing, my SO of 4 years admitted that she has a crush on a guy she has a Physics lab with at university every week, because he reminds her a little of the immature “””cool””” guy I was when we met. My initial reaction was to take it personally and feel betrayed, but while I told my partner that, I also said that I chose not to let those feelings get ahead of me; if she was planning on cheating, she wouldn’t have told me, nor felt so guilty for having those feelings.
    It hurts to know that she got those feelings, but I am glad that she can trust me to forgive her for a physiological reaction to external stimuli. I wish she’d told me sooner, but she didn’t know how I’d react.
    It’s not alpha to demand that the human brain overpowers millions of years of reproductive evolution, it’s naive.
    Communication saved our relationship.

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