Question

There’s a neighbor who’s my bishop and has influenced me greatly in my life. How do I make sure my feelings of love for him don’t end up changing to an inappropriate love, as we are both married to others? Would it be considered “coveting my neighbor’s spouse” or lusting after him if I looked forward to seeing him, or talking with him? Even if it’s more than I would other neighbors?

In analyzing my feelings, I feel in ways if he were replaced with a Book of Mormon character, whom I have come to love, it would be the similar feelings, as I would look forward to talk to or see them each opportunity I got as well, but hope in the process it’s not crossing the line in any way.

I have feelings of love, gratitude, and appreciation, and don’t feel there’s any romantic interest by any means, although I do think he is attractive looking. He’s really impacted my life for the better and I want to make sure it’s not me just obsessing over this or being too extreme.

How can I make sure I don’t end up emotionally getting attached to a point that would be damaging to my own marriage or committing adultery in my heart?

I desire to be chaste and hope my feelings for him are pure and have no intention of seeking an inappropriate relationship. I wondered if another perspective on the situation may shed light on if others think it may seem inappropriate and wrong, or not.

Answer

While it’s wise to carefully assess your thoughts and behaviors around emotionally close relationships, it’s also possible to take this analysis too far and create unnecessary angst and suffering. You’re protective of your marriage, but you also need to make sure you’re protecting your mental health. Let’s talk about how to approach this in a healthy and balanced way.

It’s totally normal to feel a strong mix of emotions for those who have blessed our lives in profound ways. The love and gratitude you feel for him is a healthy response that demonstrates your appreciation for his influence. You shared that you aren’t romanticizing this relationship, even though you can appreciate him as an attractive person. It’s also totally normal to have chemistry and connection with someone but not others. Just because he’s one of a group of neighbors doesn’t mean you need to feel equally toward all of them.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to keep yourself in check with this relationship:

  • Do you conceal your deep affection for this man from you husband? Are you nervous to share this with your husband?
  • Do you go out of your way to spend time alone with this man or single him out when you’re in a group?
  • Are you preoccupying about how you present yourself when you’re around him? Are you going out of your way to draw his attention to you?
  • Have you shared things with him that you haven’t shared with your husband?
  • Are you comparing him to your husband? Are you fixating on his strengths and comparing them to your husband’s weaknesses?
  • Do you preoccupy about and anticipate interactions with him?
  • Are you critical of his wife and compare yourself to her?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, then it’s important to make the necessary adjustments. However, if you haven’t allowed yourself to progress down that slippery slope, then just stay aware of that boundary. If he’s someone you respect and enjoy talking to, there’s nothing wrong with that. Life is full of inspirational and interesting people who enrich our lives. One of the best ways to keep yourself in check with a relationship like this is to make sure to keep him a friend of your marriage by including your husband. The late Shirley Glass, a prominent researcher on affairs, found that familiarity, proximity, and poor boundaries were the biggest contributors to unplanned affairs. 

I also noticed that you wondered if you were obsessing too much about this situation. That could also be the case. Have you heard of the condition called “scrupulosity?” It’s a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and involves religious and moral obsessions. According to the International OCD Foundation, these are some common symptoms of scrupulosity[i]:

Excessive concerns about:

  • Blasphemy
  • Having committed a sin
  • Behaving morally
  • Purity
  • Going to hell
  • Death
  • A loss of impulse control

While I can’t diagnose your condition in a relationship column, if you are concerned about having this condition, I do recommend you seek professional help from someone who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. There are effective treatments for scrupulosity that can help you avoid the crippling belief that you’re constantly crossing lines when, in fact, you’re acting appropriately.

Speak candidly with your husband about this response to your question and allow him to share his observations and input with you. Work together to seek the best solution to your dilemma so you can not only protect your marriage, but also find the relief from the emotional turmoil you’re experiencing.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]  

Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.


[i] https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/IOCDF-Scrupulosity-Fact-Sheet.pdf