I recently caught wind of a story that fell off my radar screen during the Christmas holiday season last year: the Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that married dentist James Knight had the right to fire his dental assistant of 10 years, Melissa Nelson, because she was “irresistible.”

Ms. Nelson claimed she was shocked because she saw her boss as a father figure,  but the court documents indicate that for 18 months before she got fired, he had begun to make inappropriate comments at work, such as: “if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing.” One year later they began exchanging text messages, including a question about how frequently she had orgasms.

When Dr. Knight’s wife caught him texting her after hours, she insisted that he dismiss her from her job.  With his pastor by his side, the dentist called Ms. Nelson into the office and fired her. She sued for gender discrimination, but the court said that the dismissal was in Dr. Knight’s rights.

The judges ruled on the legal issues, and raised many hackles among labor lawyers, women’s rights advocates and journalists. But what about the marital issues; was Dr. Knight’s action right?

When an attractive other crosses your path

I believe it was.

Ideally the moment two people exchange rings on the altar, they would never again look at another person with lust or desire.  The problem is that the world is full of attractive people. And like it or not, the more time these people spend together, at work, at the gym, or in the classroom, they more attractive they become to each other.

There are many reasons why two persons not married to each other (or, as in the case of Ms. Nelson, one person) will find the other attractive. First, there’s no baggage: no kids to argue about; no mother-in-law to push your buttons. Second, there is bountiful possibility:  before a hook-up begins, the imagination runs amok with wild romantic and sexual fantasies. Third, newness of any sort is exciting, and marriage is anything but new.

So what should a married man or woman do if he or she has a gnawing desire to get into the pants of a co-worker, gym partner or classmate. Yeah, sure, that person should do everything in his or her power to “man up” and resist the thought.  But if the resistance is too difficult, what next?

What next?

If someone is so attractive to you that your fear for your ability to stay faithful to your marriage, the first thing to do is to tell the spouse about the attraction before an affair begins. It won’t be an easy discussion, but the act of honest sharing will bond a wedded couple together against any possible affair mate.

Then what? Well, like it or not, that spouse must do everything in his or her power to avoid contact with the person of attraction. If he or she cannot control his or her impulse, then what choice does that married man or woman have? In the case of Dr. Knight, he had already crossed the line too many times; his infatuation was quickly moving in the direction of a disaster for the marriage and his co-worker.

In cases of potential workplace affairs, severing the connection involves making arrangements for a new position, a new shift, or a transfer to a new location. For non-work attractions, it might mean going to a different gym or registering for a different class.

In Dr. Knight’s case, it wouldn’t have made sense to closed down his practice and move; it still would have left Ms. Nelson out of work.

His decision wasn’t fair to his assistant; I get that. But it might have been the only thing that he could do to protect his relationship.  He did what he needed to do.

Now that it’s just him and his missus, I’d venture a guess that he’s got a lot of work to do on his marriage!

About the Author

Scott Haltzman, M.D.

Scott Haltzman, M.D., a psychiatrist and relationship researcher, authored four books during his tenure with the Brown University faculty.

You are reading

Surviving Infidelity

Dangerous Liaisons for Anthony Weiner— Victim of Addiction?

Anthony Weiner apologized and moved on. Why did he return to Twitter?

Am I Having an Affair with My Book?

My wife accused me of cheating on her: am I more devoted to my book than to her?

Should the Children Know You've Had an Affair?

Parents want to protect kids from hurt. Sometimes, knowing the truth helps heal.