On Healing 6/16/2003: Why does she have these flirtations with temptation?

Dear Dan,

I am in my 50s and have been married to the same person for most of my adult life. We have a very good relationship now after some major rough times early on. We have a very satisfying sex life. But I have a crush every couple of years. I don’t act on these crushes, but usually the man realizes I have one on him.

I’m not sure what need I have that is unmet. Maybe just the newness of someone else. Maybe I have never felt I had a “soul mate” in my spouse. We are very different, opposite kinds of personalities.

My thoughts get pretty obsessive, and I’d like to be able to decrease them. The crush does go away once I no longer have any opportunity to run into the man. I don’t create those opportunities artificially. I just want to understand why I need these crushes. Any ideas?

You could speak with one mental health professional, who might tell you that you have a sexual addiction and that you should be in group therapy and/or a 12-step program for sex and love addiction (SLAA). And that therapist might very well be right. There could be a history of sexual abuse or sexual overstimulation in your life that has come back to haunt you in this way. There could also be some other form of addiction in your family, and you have the genetic predisposition. If so, that diagnosis and intervention could be very helpful for you.

Another mental health professional could say you have an anxiety disorder and that your obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior are symptoms. Although no one knows for sure what causes anxiety disorders, they can have genetic or traumatic roots. And they are closely related to depression. Anxiety disorders are usually quite treatable with a behavioral/cognitive psychotherapy, and sometimes medication can be quite helpful.

A marital and family therapist might suggest that the primary issue is in the marriage, and that if you felt more fulfilled in that relationship, you would not have these obsessive thoughts.

However, I would like to offer yet a fourth opinion. A poem by Franklyn Abbott begins: “As sure as a flower is drawn to the sun, it is the entropy of the soul to seek wholeness.” You said you were too old for crushes. That’s debatable, and you are certainly not too old for passion.

But the issue is not your age, and it probably isn’t even your sexuality. You fantasize about strange men, but I am sure you long for something else. Maybe you long for passion, but it is much more more likely that you long for compassion. Ultimately, like Abbott said, your search may be for wholeness. A search for yourself. Perhaps ultimately what you long for are neglected parts of your own soul.

And here is why:

The way you describe your experience sounds like the way you would describe a close acquaintance rather than someone who knows and loves you. Your letter suggests that you have both behavior and emotions that you do not understand. What you do understand is that something inside hurts and having sexually charged fantasies takes away that hurt.

When you feel the arousal or discomfort, sit with yourself as though you are with a soul mate. Explore the distress behind these emotions and let yourself feel compassion (not victimization or righteous indignation, just genuine caring for your own suffering).

Most of all, do not try to diminish your pain – this will only lead to more suffering. Try to experience these emotions as you would chronic physical pain. Not as something that demands immediate attention, but as something that causes periodic pain that you must just live with. This is a difficult process.

The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said: “Neurosis is the avoidance of legitimate suffering.” Underneath the pain and embarrassment of your sexual impulses may very well be an even greater pain that must be felt, experienced, and ultimately tolerated.

So do you have an addiction, or an anxiety disorder, or problems in your marriage, or is it alienation from yourself? Probably a bit of all. But now you have options. So get busy and reclaim your life.

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