Question

I’ve been married to my husband for seven years. In those seven years I’ve been attracted to his older brother, who’s also married. He’s very handsome and is basically an upgraded version of my husband. I know that sounds bad. But I find myself thinking and even fantasizing about him and not sure how to feel about it all. I have not talked to my husband about this. We both have children that are close in age, and we live in the same city. I’m good friends with his wife and we spend lots of time together as families. We vacation together with my in-laws frequently. He’s very outgoing and flirty by nature with everyone. I’m very comfortable and open around him. Which has tended to make the attraction stronger over time. Before we see them, I find myself wanting to look good and I look forward to being with him. 

I feel guilty because I love my husband and kids very much and would never do anything to hurt them. Nor do I think he has any intentions like that either. His wife is very beautiful as well. I’ve tried to avoid the feelings altogether. Thinking maybe the attraction was temporary and I’d get over it. 

I’m to the point where I need advice. I’ve thought of just trying to cut ties with them and not spending as much time. It would seem weird because of the relationship we have with them, and they’re family. So, I don’t want to damage the relationship. My other option is to come clean and tell him and my husband how I’ve been feeling. I’m not sure what it will accomplish. I’m afraid it’ll make things awkward and hurt my husband in the process. Not sure where to turn.

Answer

Even though we don’t get to choose our attractions, we do get to choose what we do with them. I respect your courage asking for help with this situation that continues to trouble you. Your willingness to be honest with yourself will be a major safeguard as you work through this. Here are some ideas that might help you handle this unwanted attraction.

First, as you’ve now discovered, being married doesn’t switch off our attractions to others. In fact, our denial of these attractions causes more problems than the actual attractions themselves. Chemistry and attraction are mysterious and are unpredictable. Even though we might be surprised by an unexpected attraction to someone else, we can acknowledge it and then make decisions that starve the attraction rather than feed it.

You’ve nurtured this secret attraction for so many years that it’s now become a one-way attachment to a fantasy of your brother-in-law. I call it a fantasy because he’s one-dimensional to you. Sure, you’ve spent time with him in multiple settings, but you honestly don’t have any first-hand experience of what it’s like to be in a relationship with him. This isn’t a criticism of him, but rather a recognition that it’s easy to feel attracted to someone we don’t really know. You get to see him at his best without the dependency, pressures, expectations, and other dynamics that come with committed love.

I recognize you’re not trying to justify this attraction or decide if you want to pursue him. I only point this out because it can help reflect reality instead of allowing yourself to simmer in the warm glow of imagining life with someone who has never hurt you, misunderstood you, or let you down. It takes mental and emotional discipline to redirect these types of thoughts so you can direct your best energy to your husband and family.  

You wondered if it’s necessary to tell your husband or brother-in-law about your feelings. Before you make a decision, it’s important to be honest about any lines you’ve crossed. Have you said or done anything with your brother-in-law that you wouldn’t do in the presence of your husband? If not, then it’s likely that this is something you can redirect on your own without having to cause unnecessary drama in the family. We all need room to work through our private thoughts as we deal with unexpected and unwanted intrusions. Most thoughts are passing thoughts and don’t need much examination or accountability. However, if you are so preoccupied with these feelings and thoughts around your brother-in-law that it’s impossible to redirect them, then I recommend you seek professional counseling before you pull your husband into this discussion.

You don’t understand what’s happening to you and it will be much more difficult to try and sort through what you’re feeling and experiencing if you’re also having to manage your husband’s overwhelm. Use this time in counseling to explore why you allowed yourself to get pulled into this fantasy with your brother-in-law. Examine what you are missing in your life. Are there things you’re not asking for in your relationship with your husband? Is there anything you like about yourself when you imagine yourself in a relationship with him? What’s it bringing up for you that you can invite back to your relationship? Sometimes attractions can surface unacknowledged longings that we haven’t identified. These attractions are less about him and more about you.

If you decide to talk about this with your husband, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what’s happening to you and what your husband can expect from you going forward. He can be a source of support to make sure you don’t overdo it with vacations and time spent together. If this is becoming impossible for you to redirect, then it’s wise to protect your own marriage with support. Without him understanding this, he may be confused why you’re pulling away from these interactions. I’m sure you recognize how painful and confusing this will be for your husband, so it’s best to really sort through these options with professional guidance before you drop an unexamined bomb on your husband.

Regardless of whether you tell your husband, while you’re trying to regain perspective and reset your thoughts, it’s important to set yourself up for success by not putting yourself in situations where you’re more likely to fantasize about your brother-in-law. Familiarity builds intimacy, so making yourself less emotionally vulnerable around him can help. You might decide that it’s not necessary to stop gathering as family, but you certainly change the way you engage with him. It can help to mix up your social gatherings and do things with other couples. I also recommend you do more to turn your attention to your husband and your sister-in-law in mixed gatherings so you aren’t trying to build more connection with your brother-in-law.

It’s also a good idea to identify what you love about your husband and family. This can be a signal that your appreciation for your husband and family is low. What do you need to give back to your marriage? What is working? What do you love? What do you appreciate? You can make sure that you build up and compliment your husband publicly, especially when you’re around his brother. It’s easy to take our spouse for granted, so sharing genuine appreciation makes a big difference.

If you have an unresolved injuries or resentments in your marriage, then don’t ignore those and do everything you can to address them. These can become invisible wedges that can make other people seem more attractive. It’s a way of avoiding the hard work we need to do.

Even though this has been going on for your entire marriage, you’ve caught it before it’s turned into something tragic for your families. You have introspective work to do as you seek to understand why this is so powerful for you and how you can acknowledge and redirect these emotions. Stay honest with yourself and your supports about your progress and struggles.

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

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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.