Spend enough time in any relationship and eventually, the warts start to show and bad habits come out of the woodwork. “Long-term partners naturally have the disadvantage of showing their negative sides,” says Loving. “Someone we just met has none of that negative stuff, so it’s tough for other people not to seem attractive. This is why relationships take work.”
In fact, sometimes that new person—still devoid of personal flaws—can seem like the solution to all of life’s problems. Rebecca Roy, MFT, a Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist who specializes in treating entertainment industry professionals, works with many people (including celebrities) who’ve given in to temptation. She finds, “They often have this fantasy that this new person is a pure, innocent love that’s going to absolve them of any shame or guilt they might be carrying. They think, ‘If I attract this wonderful person, then by osmosis, I am also wonderful.’”
The appeal of that fantasy can be powerful, but eventually, the curtain has to fall. Roy’s experience has led her to one conclusion: “Prince charming is probably just a frog. Usually, it’s just a few months before that croaking starts.”
Resisting the Siren Call
If you do find yourself falling for an alternative, Roy recommends taking a step back and thinking, “What do I want from this person? What is missing in my primary relationship?” When you see the gaps in your current relationship—the needs that aren’t being fulfilled—bring them up with your partner. You might say, “I’ve been feeling lonely or distant and I’d like to work on this together.” That might sound tough, but it’s a whole lot easier than having the “I-slept-with-someone-else” conversation.
In the face of an attractive alternative, some studies suggest that women have more natural defenses than men do. A 2008 study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that after being exposed to an attractive alternative, men in committed relationships were less likely to forgive a partner’s transgressions, while women were more likely to forgive in an effort to defend the relationship.
But as the study went on to show, commitment can be taught. Researchers primed the men with the following sentence: “When I am approached by the attractive girl, I will then [insert action here] to defend my relationship.” The men completed the sentence on their own. Afterward, men were just as likely as women to defend their relationship, possibly because they were less likely to seek out attractive alternatives.
Quinn—who was filming on location when we spoke—believes in reinforcing her relationship if it’s threatened. “If I felt myself developing feelings for someone else, I’d contact my husband a lot more to keep that connection,” she says. For Quinn, that means sharing the intimate, sometimes insignificant details of her day with him, like a funny moment or a picture of the restaurant where she ate lunch—the small moments they might share over dinner. “My big thing is just to feel like we’ve been a part of each other’s day. Communication is the key to not going astray.”
Still, at the end of the day, she’s realistic that our feelings aren’t always entirely under our control. “Innocent crushes are fine as long as that’s all it is,” says Quinn. But she stresses that boundaries matter. “Getting coffee is one thing, but getting a hotel room is quite another.”
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